Note: This article was written some time ago to be published when Suarez’s signing was made public. Things got in the way, and five weeks later our new number nine will soon be presented in front of a full Camp Nou at the traditional Gamper’s Trophy. What the hell, I might as well…
Little more than nothing in this article will not have been said already. As if you need reminding that Luis Suarez, the man with the mind and teeth of a Tasmanian devil has landed in Barcelona and will represent the club we love. Family man. Despicable jerk. Great teammate. Selfish superstar. Winner at all costs. Cheater with no shame. Worth 81 million euros. Not worthy of our shirt. You’ve heard it all. He splits opinions like left wing politics. The only clear consensus is that he’s a brilliant striker.
Even before he arrived at our club, culers were divided. Of course, culers are always divided, but not like this. Excited. Depressed. Proud. Embarassed. Making accusations. Making up excuses. Supportive. Disgusted. Some of us feel all these emotions, and more, at the same time. It’s only natural. Most hearts have dynamic IP addresses and we’re still trying to find out if what we purchased is the next best thing since Google Glasses or a nasty virus that will cost us a lot to finally remove.
For his previous club, at least, Luis had a brilliant season. Not a lot of people expected Liverpool to even make the Champions League, but with 31 goals and 12 assists, he led a young and exciting team to within a “we will not let this slip” moment from the title.
He can shoot with his left and his right and hit it with power or finesse. He thinks quick and runs fast. He’s a good passer who involves his teammates*, but he can take on his marker with guile and swagger. He’s dangerous on the counter yet give him the ball in a small space and he worms his way through defenders before they can say “cheater.” He’s a hard worker who’s got “I want to win” etched in his heart.** A lethal scorer, his goal repertoire is as colorful as a Brazilian favela. Headers, lobs, tap-ins, 40-yard screamers, one-on-one finishes, volleys, low hard drives, rounding the keeper, free kicks, from solo runs and tight angles, penalties. You name it, he’s scored it. He’s a complete striker, seemingly without weaknesses. Really, what’s not to like?
THE GOOD… OR BAD?
On paper, an attack featuring Leo, Ney and Lucho is salivating. F.C. Barcelona might very well have found the third man of what would make for the most naturally gifted front line to ever grace the fields. But does the most gifted mean it will be the best? Let’s examine that for a moment.
After Groningen, Ajax and Liverpool, this will be the first time in Europe that Luis Suarez is not “the man.” Every club he has played for revolves around the bucktoothed striker. Only for his country he played a comparitively modest role next to Diego Forlán some years back, as they formed a forward tandem that reached the semifinals at South Africa 2010. Of course, a club as big as Barça will always look to add the best players, whether from other clubs or from the Masía. It’s rare to represent the club at its highest level without having been “the man” somewhere else. But sometimes, too much can be too much.
Although he won’t occupy the space Messi and Neymar love when they drop into the midfield to assume playmaking roles, his natural game does demand protagonism. He’s always been the focus point of his team, a player who wants the ball – a lot. When we bought O Ney, Cruijff famously said that you can’t have two captains on one ship. Getting the best out of a Neymar and La Pulga combination is quite a challenge for the best of coaches, so now we have three?
I absolutely agree with the need for a striker, but would it not have been better to get a slightly more modest talent, like Higuain or Mandzukic, who would leave our two superstars with more space to run the team, similar to how Karim Benzema is the perfect B to M*drid’s CC? When Florentino Perez was adding a Galactico every year, did it not get to the point that every summer move instilled laughter rather than fear in the hearts of culers worldwide? Are we not making the same mistake right now?
And what about the overall balance of the squad? Will all three defend? Will Suarez get frustrated when he sees Neymar and Messi defending less? Will Neymar get frustrated with Messi, for that matter? Will Rakitic succeed where Cesc has failed? Wouldn’t it have been better to spend at least some of those 81 million euros – 81 million euros – on say, a defender? Suarez might very well be a better player than Alexis, but taking into account the amount of work the Chilean puts in and how well he has finally adapted to playing on the wing, will he be worth having sold Lexus for?
One thing’s for sure, the purchase of Lucho raises a lot of questions. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t any answers. Some culers, and I count myself among them, have been making the argument for quite some time that Messi should move to a playmaker role. If you put Suarez in front of him, and heck, Pedro on the right, we’ll have, for the first time since Eto’o left, two attackers who can make runs that invite through balls, a characteristic which has been lacking in our squad for some time now.
No matter how you look at it, from a purely tactical point of view, this monster move by the board represents a huge risk. But don’t worry. If it works, the board is a genius for signing him. If it doesn’t, they’ll blame Luis Enrique. Or Lionel Messi.
For perhaps the first time in football history fans are unanimously satisfied that their club sold its star player at the heights of his powers. Think about that for a second. Luis had just come off of his best season ever during which he was absolutely integral to his team’s title run. He made the crowd oooh and aaah with his flair and unpredictability. Liverpool hadn’t had a player like this since… Maybe they’ve never had a player like this. He’s at his prime, at a moment where if his club had continued building the team around him, who knows, maybe they could actually win their first league title in over twenty years. And yet, 99% of Liverpool fans were glad to see him go.
What does that tell us? I could just say “enough” and leave it that.
I have to be honest. I find it incredibly hard to dislike Luis Suarez. I’m talking about the person here, not the player. He has always come across as likable in his interviews. He takes his job seriously and he gives his 110%. There’s the fairy tale story of how he was motivated to the core to play in Europe, which is normal for South American football players, but with the twist that his main motivation was to be closer to his girlfriend who left Uruguay for Barcelona when Luis was fifteen. How can you not a story like that? Girls, say “aaaaaaw”. Funnily enough, as despised a figure he has become, I think I would’t have disliked him even if he had signed for M*drid.
It’s tragic therefore that he betrays himself so often and that he always ends up repeating the same mistakes. Just when the world falls in love with him he’ll bite someone. Again. Or demand a transfer two weeks after he declared his never-ending loyalty. It’s moments like these that make you realize that the man is his own worst enemy. It makes you grunt, scream, roll your eyes so far back your head hurts. And it makes the press and a large contingent of (especially Anglo-Saxon) fans vilify the man.
So when he dives to get an advantage he is bashed over the head with the proverbial sledgehammer – but when Stevie G. does it the public hear no evil see no evil. When he batted the ball out of the goal mouth to deny the first African semi-finalist ever fans call him a despicable cheat, knowing (I suspect or I hope) full well that he did what every player would have done in a similar situation, which is of course what every fan would have want their player to do. Ooooh, they say, and he had the gall to laugh when Ghana missed the resulting penalty and kept hope against all hope of advancing alive.
Is he the devil incarnate? I know I’d rather be bitten in my shoulder than have my leg or back broken, but while people call him an animal and inhuman and they mean it, too, in my view biting a man on a football pitch is just weird. More than anything it’s plainly bizarre. A four-month ban for club and country for an offense which Chiellini probably didn’t even feel anymore the next day seems unjust to me. The Italian defender himself said as much, and other players have gotten away with a lot worse during this tournament, under the all-seeing eye of the camera, no less.
You can’t have a team of only nice guys, said Cruijff, who would know because the Clockwork Orange of 1974 featured players who would saw off an opponent’s kneecap for tugging at Johan’s shirt. Except Barça did have a team of nice guys, and they were arguably the best team the world has ever seen. They were the exception rather than the rule. I’m too young to remember if there were many complaints amongst culers when Hristo Stoichkov stomped on a referee’s foot shortly after arriving in Catalunya. I definitely don’t want Suarez to gouge anyone’s eyes while wearing our shirt.*** His hunger and aggression, however, if channeled correctly, can prove a catalyst to bring back those intangibles our team have lost. Likewise that same hunger and passion can see him banned for life. Especially his hunger.****
It’s funny how we don’t pay much stock to the rumor mill. Every summer another target, and every day new names find their way to the headlines of SPORT and Mundo Deportivo. What’s even funnier is how from the first day Luis Suarez graced the local covers, that sinking feeling started surging, that “oooooowwww I know this ain’t no rumor” feeling. Presidents come, presidents go, their strategy remains the same. “The whole of Barcelona wants Luis Suarez” blurts SPORT. “Culers undivided in their desire to see Luis in our colors” claims MD. Things of that nature. *****
Try as they may, culers I speak to in the city of Barcelona are not convinced. Many say he’s not worth the risk. The smart ones – rare and in between – wonder how Messi, Neymar and Suarez will play together. The ones who love our club because the values they thought it represented are disgusted. Of course many also think, as is inevitable, “what if it works?” All in all, he might not be as disliked here as he is in England, but culers are nowhere near as close to ecstatic as we are being told that we are.
It’s just another thread of the carpet of deception that’s been laid out in front of us week in and week out. If the board wants to buy a player, by all means buy him. If our new coach loves him, all the better. They want to take that risk, then take the risk. Just don’t tell us it’s what we all want. Don’t take us for the fools that only half of us are. Is that too much to ask for?
FIVE WEEKS LATER
So now we’ve had a good five weeks to get used to the idea that Luis Suarez is a Barça player. For many, the original disgust has died down. I personally remain more disgusted with MD and Sport for their “FIFA ban injustice” campaign than with the original offense that caused it – not because I don’t think the ban is injust, but because the fact that our board knew full well he was banned before they packed a record amount of money in a record amount of suitcases and sent them Merseyside. I still don’t see quite clearly how our superstar frontline will work together, but that doesn’t mean I’m not carefully optimistic. I know we’ll see some good football and, although it would be presumptuous to count on anything, I hope we’ll get to celebrate a trophy at the end of this season, too.
* Ironically the season that finally saw him win the golden boot coincided with the first season that he impressed for having left his selfish play behind.
** The facet of his game which epitomizes his will to win is the way he dribbles. He’s not a close dribbler, like Neymar, Messi or Iniesta. Nor does he blast by people like C. Ronaldo, Bale or Robben. No. When Luis Suarez dribbles past his marker, the ball will hit his opponents legs and sometimes even more than once. How does he still get past them? Call me dirty, but I like this man’s intangibles…
*** The eye-gouging, to me, is a lot worse than biting and it amazes me that it didn’t cause even a tenth of the uproar. I didn’t even know he committed the act until the video went viral. Following the same train of thought, a video surged of Jermaine Defoe biting another player. You guessed it, he did not get banned seven games for his first offense. Hypocrisy some? For sure. Not that it makes Luis look any better, though.
**** The more I hear and read about it, the more I think the ban is disgraceful. FIFA actually had the police (!) come and get him from the Uruguay training grounds. The idea of a player not being allowed to train with his teammates or even enter a stadium is absurd, as is the fact that they punish Liverpool for something their player did at a tournament in which he didn’t represent their club. Never mind them, they’re laughing their butts off for finding a suitor who coughed up 80M. They don’t have to worry about that nutcase anymore. His next transgression, and there will be a next transgression, he’ll be lucky if they allow him to play FIFA on his Playstation. Watch a game with his father-in-law. Talk about football at the dinner table. Pass the ball around in his backyard with his daughters. Walk on grass. He’ll be the first ever football player to go into hiding. A pariah, playing illegal pick-up games on the parking lot of a seedy bar at three in the morning on a Saturday. It won’t be long before he undertakes extensive plastic surgery and signs up for the Pyong Yang Red Stars. You heard it here first.
***** One of the most ridiculous “advantages” they keep writing is that because of his wife and in-laws, Suarez will adapt to the city very quickly. You know, because Barcelona is such a notoriously difficult place to adapt to for professional footballers. And while I’m at it, another disgrace is how Barto, Zubi, SPORT and MD are the only ones who tried to sell us his (read: his lawyer’s) apology.