Suarez now Barca's best hope of stopping Madrid march to the title
No one expects Real Madrid’s £500m squad not to come out on top in the Spanish title race that kicks off this Saturday.
But then nobody expected Liverpool to fall just three points short of winning the Premier League last season. Into any La Liga forecast must be factored the Luis Suarez effect.
“I don’t believe in stars apart from the ones in the sky,” he said on Tuesday when asked in his official presentation about becoming one of the club’s “superstars”. It sounded like something Luis Enrique might say and it is no coincidence that it was Barcelona’s new coach who provoked the club’s sudden interest in signing Suarez.
Identifying Barcelona’s lost work ethic as the team’s biggest problem, he picked out the Liverpool striker as the solution and the club moved swiftly to give the new manager the player he wanted, for just £65m, according to the Barcelona director Jordi Mestre.
Suarez guarantees the aggressive intensity that Barcelona were completely bereft of last season. His detractors would be quick to add that he also guarantees trouble.
On Tuesday he spoke of the deep gloom that had descended as it sank in that biting Giorgio Chiellini had cost him his best chance to light up a World Cup, participation in next year’s Copa America, and the first 11 games of the season.
“It’s a private matter but I have worked with the appropriate professionals,” he said, offering confirmation that he had sought psychological help. “There were many days when I didn’t want to do anything. I was depressed but I spent some time with my wife and children and got myself together again and saw that it was right for me to apologise.”
The apology would not have been enough without the “I will never do it again” promise but you can only say “never again” once and he knows this is the last chance. He also knows that, at 27, a player of his ability really should have won far more. He has no major European league titles and only minimal participation in the Champions League. He now has the ultimate opportunity to change all that.
Something about the last few days has reinforced a sense that he will take the chance. For Monday’s friendly against FC Leon he was named among the substitutes along with eight youth-team graduates, Gerard Pique, Alex Song and Xavi. But while those three senior players chose not to warm up before the game, Suarez joined the circle of kids as they went through a one-touch passing drill.
He fizzed passes back and forth to the teenage substitutes with both laces untied and admitted on Tuesday that his feet ached after not putting on a pair of boots for so long. He wanted to make the most of every moment, having been at the Nou Camp only as a spectator previously, most notably for Barcelona’s 4-1 win over Arsenal in 2010.
That night Lionel Messi scored four and, to judge from his sprightly return, the Argentine is ready to thrive, free from the pressures of the World Cup.
He will benefit from Suarez’s contagious intensity and the space he opens up as teams are forced on to the back foot by the possibility of the early pass that releases him. Alongside Messi, Suarez does not need to repeat the 31 goals from last season, he just needs to give Barcelona back the insatiable pressing game they have lost.
His unavailability until the first Clasico on 26 October has given Real Madrid an advantage – as if the most expensively assembled team in history needed one – but, as Suarez reminded everyone on Tuesday, he started last season on 30 September and soon made up for lost time.
Preventing a Real Madrid procession to the title will depend on him doing likewise this time. And being a success at Barcelona will depend on never having to miss the start of another season.