On 10 September, when Luis Suarez laces his boots against Deportivo Alaves at the Camp Nou, he will accomplish a significant milestone in his Barcelona career. The match will mark the 100th time that Suarez has donned the Barcelona colours since his big money transfer from Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool for £75 million.
Over the course of his appearances, his impact has been nothing short of phenomenal as he plundered in 88 goals across all competitions and also helped the team win the treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and UEFA Champions League in his first season at the club.
However, when the transfer was completed initially in July 2014, there was a major concern over Suárez’s penchant for attracting controversy. In fact, Suarez did not play in a competitive match for Barcelona till 25 October 2014 owing to his ban from all “football-related activities“ for four months after being found guilty of biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini while playing for Uruguay at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
This ban was preceded by two more bans for similar biting incidents. The first one was during his time with Ajax when he bit PSV Eindhoven player Otman Bakkal on the shoulder in November 2010 that saw him banned for seven league games and was branded by Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf as the “Cannibal of Ajax.” The second incident happened in April 2013 while Suarez was playing for Liverpool when he bit Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic and was subsequently banned for 10 games by the English FA.
Prior to this, he was suspended for eight games by the English FA after being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in October 2011. Amidst all these controversies, Suarez became a world-class player at Liverpool he almost single-handedly took Liverpool to the league title in the 2013-14 EPL season by scoring 31 goals in 33 games, winning the PFA Player of the Year award and sharing the European Golden Shoe with Cristiano Ronaldo.
The perfect footballer to have in a side
Suarez is the kind of player whose genius footballing ability, intense work-rate, superb fitness, fierce passion for the game and an unrelenting “never give up” attitude make him the perfect footballer for any team to have. The aforementioned qualities endear him to the fans making him a massive fan-favourite at every club he has played for. It is, however, his propensity to get entangled in controversies that have tarnished his reputation.
So, when Barcelona signed him in the summer of 2014, the transfer seemed to be a mixed bag in the eyes of many due to the price tag involved, meaning not even the most optimistic of supporters would have predicted the kind of all-round impact Suárez would have.
After an initial bedding-in period, the Uruguayan came to life in the second half of the season forming a mouth-watering partnership with Neymar and Lionel Messi, dubbed as MSN (Messi, Suarez and Neymar), who scored a sensational 122 goals between them on the way to clinch a record second ever treble for Barcelona. Suarez ended the season scoring 25 goals in all competitions including the winner in the eventual 3-1 win against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League Final 2015.
His goalscoring exploits scaled new heights the following season as he scored 40 goals in the league to win the Pichichi trophy awarded for the top goalscorer in La Liga and his second European Golden Shoe thereby becoming the first player since 2009, not named Messi or Ronaldo to win both the awards in the same year.
To put his impact in a better perspective after joining Barcelona, his record of 88 goals in 99 appearances dwarfs Messi’s 41 goals and Neymar’s 57 goals in their first 99 games for the Catalan club. However, Messi and Neymar made their bows for Barca at the ages of 17 and 21 respectively whereas Suarez made his first start at the age of 27 when he was close to his peak.
A better comparison would be with Cristiano Ronaldo who joined Real Madrid at the age of 24 and registered an astounding 95 goals in his first 99 games. However, when compared in terms of the number of goals involved with the Portugal captain was involved in 122 goals (95 goals, 27 assists) for Real Madrid whereas Suarez was involved in 131 goals (88 goals, 43 assists) which not only shows his elite marksmanship but also highlights his creative ability and selflessness to set up goals for team-mates.
Further, his influence on the team has been so remarkable that Barcelona have won 80 of the 99 games in which he has played and the Blaugrana are yet to lose a game in which Luis has scored.Importantly, he has steered clear of any major controversy so far in his time at the club. In spite of that, it is his previously tainted reputation that prevented him from being a genuine contender for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award for the best player in the world last year.
In light of his exploits, the £75 million look like every penny well-spent on a player who not only adjusted to the Barcelona way and formed one-third of the greatest attacking trio in footballing history, but has also established himself as the best striker in world football in the last couple of years. Continuing in the same vein, Suarez is sure to etch himself as a club legend and an all-time footballing great in the near future.Published 10 Sep 2016, 15:32 IST