Luis Suarez hunger ensures his place in paradise
From adversity to the ultimate club glory, the Uruguayan is an inspiration, says Henry Winter
A season that started in purdah ended in paradise for Luis Suarez. Vilified and banned after biting Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, the Uruguayan finally made his Barcelona debut on October 25, losing 3-1 at Real Madrid, yet there was enough evidence at the Bernabeu, including an assist for Neymar, to indicate Suarez would settle. He is certainly making the right impression now.
In scoring 25 times in 43 appearances, Suarez has dovetailed with increasing ease and mobile menace with Neymar and Lionel Messi, who all now share a phenomenal 122 goals. Suarez's work rate and finishing have shone through, bringing sweetness and light back to his life after the dark days of last summer.
He left the World Cup in shame and soon left Liverpool for £75 million. Some voiced doubts about whether he would fit in at Barcelona, ignoring his deep desire to make the move succeed, the selflessness of Messi, in particular, to accommodate the newcomer, and the fact that his wife's family lived in the city, ensuring the support network was in place.
"When we thought about getting Luis Suarez to reinforce the team, we knew of his great qualities,'' Luis Enrique, the Barcelona coach, said. "Of course we had our doubts. We didn't know if he'd adapt to this team, to these great players and to a different philosophy. His statistics and performances show that he's one of our best signings. We paid a lot of money for him, but he's shown a lot of hunger to win trophies."
That hunger was there against Real in October in La Liga, was there at Villarreal in the Copa del Rey and was there in the Champions League against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, against Paris Saint-Germain at Parc des Princes, and, ultimately, against Juventus in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Time and again, he delivered, leaving trouble behind and the treble ahead.
"Football is like that: there are always difficult moments," Suarez said.
"Things happen in football and I try to turn them round. So many things have happened to me."
On May 21 last year, Suarez damaged his meniscus training in Uruguay, underwent surgery and was in a wheelchair four weeks before facing England in Sao Paulo. He recovered to shred England's defence.
"At the World Cup against England, there were people who didn't think I would make it to the game and I was able to score two goals,'' said Suarez, whose next game brought that attack on Chiellini, a four-month exile from club football (later changed to be only for competitive games) and a nine-match international suspension.
"Then with everything that happened afterwards, I had the chance to show people [here] what I am [really about] after all the things that people had said, things that I kept out of. Thankfully, that happened. The first people I thought of were my wife and my two children. They've been through a lot with me. They've suffered with me. They know what I've suffered and sacrificed to get here.
"I'm grateful to Barcelona for trusting in me after everything that happened and to my team-mates who have been spectacular. They treated me like one of the team from the day I arrived and I will remember that for the rest of my life.
"I had the support of my team-mates from the start and with the talent we have in the team it is easier: with Leo, Ney', Andres [Iniesta]...
"I came to Barcelona to win titles, to achieve important things, and that is what we've done. I never feel satisfied with what I've done. I scored in Paris, against City, against Real Madrid, and some people would say: 'It's done.' Quite the opposite. I always want to achieve more. With the quality this team has, I think we can win more."
Suarez's intervention after 68 minutes was particularly important as Barcelona were suffering a wobble. After Alvaro Morata equalised the opening goal from the outstanding Ivan Rakitic, Barcelona looked vulnerable. They briefly seemed back to their earlier-season frailty when there were questions over Enrique.
They needed to show character, as Gerard Pique explained. "You can't get better than winning like that, after January, when it looked like everything was falling apart, after five brutal months, beating some of the best teams in the world, the champions of England, the champions of Italy, Germany," the Barcelona centre-half said.
Juventus sensed an opportunity. Carlos Tevez was running with extra hunger, Andrea Pirlo was trying to get on the ball more and Paul Pogba had a couple of runs. "The team suffered a lot," Pique said. "That was demonstrated when it went to 1-1. We had 10-15 minutes when we were shattered and they attacked. Defensively, we had to suffer, but up front with the talent these players have, they knew how to take the chances so we could win the trophy."
Messi created Suarez's goal, leaving Andrea Barzagli for dead, and bringing the save from Gianluigi Buffon from which Suarez poached the rebound.
"I said to myself at the start of the season that I would be happy to score 20 goals, so I have five left over to go towards next season's tally," the 28-year-old said. "I'm very tired, very stressed, after the last few weeks. The knee hurts."
Suarez landed awkwardly and it looked like he might struggle to continue but he played on before eventually hobbling off during injury-time and watching from the bench as Neymar struck the third, triggering wild celebrations.
"When you play for Barcelona, you know you have pressure, you're obliged to win, so now we just have to enjoy this," Suarez said.
Barcelona's triumph was rooted in individual excellence, in Messi's willingness to take responsibility in helping restore the lead, in Enrique's switch in tactics earlier in the season, albeit with much influence from Messi, using Suarez centrally. Juventus also missed the injured Chiellini.
There has also been a huge camaraderie guiding Barcelona through difficult times during the season.
"We were talking in the dressing room that this is one of the best dressing rooms [for team spirit] we've had in the history of this club, and that they have the most talent as well," Pique said after spending 10 minutes cutting down all the net at the Barcelona end because he removed only part of it at Wembley in 2011 and ran low on souvenirs for friends.
Pique, clearly, has many friends. (© Daily Telegraph, London)