We explore the story of present-day football’s enfant terrible, Luis Suarez, and chart his path from harshest poverty to feared hitman.
As humanity orchestrates its own downfall, wages wars on the basis of where you live and how you bend over to please your false Gods, it’s only fitting that being brutally cut-throat is essential in all walks of life. Spot a weak colleague? Throw him under the bus! Seen a gap in the traffic? Create an illegal lane and get onto it. Standing in a concert? Push over the broad blocking your view of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. You have had enough. No more Mr. Nice Guy. And this is you in your life of privilege. You are sitting in an air-conditioned room at age 25. Your plump fingers smacking the keyboard and you wonder ‘Wow I’ve had it tough’.
The f**k you have!
Now picture this. As the world falls apart around you – people dying, friends getting married, women throwing themselves at you, a fat guy watching Tasty videos till 5 AM and slurping up drool – you, my friend, find the time to put a round object commonly referred to as a ball to your feet. Suddenly, the noise, the pain, the sheer vibration of the cosmos disappears. It’s you, the 90 yards, and the football. As you begin to sprint, a hundred thousand people chant your name, louder and louder as you approach the goal. The defenders can’t touch you, the goalkeeper can’t get near you and by the time everyone’s caught a breath, the ball is in the back of the net.
Ruthless, like everywhere else in life. On the football pitch, 90 minutes and 90 yards are just numbers for some. They have played this way their entire life. Not knowing up from down and right from wrong, players escape reality – some of it terrible as Marc Bartra will tell you – by being on the field.
As the middle one of seven children, one particular Luis Suarez had ruthlessness in his veins as a kid. While it is not difficult to imagine a buck-toothed Pistolero biting his siblings, the reality was different. His poverty forced him to scavenge for old, thrown-away shoes, never mind getting new ones. But when the going gets tough, the tough start kicking a ball. And Luis Suarez did just that. Struggling to find the right path, the barefoot young man started playing football for Nacional – one of the two biggest clubs in Uruguay. He went on to score all kinds of goals, from poke-ins to his now famous overhead kicks. And despite playing only 34 times for the side, he is considered an idol.
Throughout his career, this streak of ruthlessness and the survival instinct has kept Suarez a notch above the rest. When he isn’t winning, he is often seen chasing down the lost causes, the loose touches, the passes back to the keeper. He is relentless in his running, he buzzes around like a madman on ecstasy and can cause havoc in a well-settled defender’s head just by being absent from his field of vision. And then comes all the controversy: the dives, the slurs and the bites. We’re now aware of Suarez’s cuisine preferences of Turkish, Serbian and Italian, thanks to the three chunks he has taken out of Ottoman Bakkal, Branislav Ivanovic and Giorgio Chiellini.
Each time though, Luisito has come back from the lengthy lay-off and fines as a tougher, more rounded individual. Each time, he has gone on to take his exploits on the field to new heights. It pushes him, to have the world rally against him. And every time, he raises his game. From scrappy finishes to sublime volleys, Suarez has it all in his arsenal against the opposition defence. And when those fail him, he sometimes kicks, punches, dives and leans into his opponent. His ruthless survival instincts coming from his childhood in Uruguay. The man does not like to lose. And he has not lost much since he joined FC Barcelona.
From Ajax to Liverpool to Barcelona – Luis Suarez has been arguably the most consistent centre-forward over the last couple of years, at the very least. That said, he has never had a whiff of the Ballon d’Or award. At last year’s gala, he said he did not carry the marketing power of a Cristiano or a Lionel. How could he after all? He was the bad boy of football. With a smile that would make Daniel Sturridge wince and Jurgen Klopp terrified, his insane ability on the ball still sells him short of the two otherworldly men at the forefront of the sport today.
You have to build an image, a hype, sell shirts, score wonder goals and be consistent. Just look at Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and you have everything. One, a diminutive Argentine who is soft spoken but lethal in any part of the field. Another, a Portuguese powerhouse, evolving from marauding winger into the epitome of male athleticism – jumping, running, striking and heading the ball better than ever before. One is the same age as Suarez and his team-mate. The other is 32 and plays at Barcelona’s most bitter rivals, Real Madrid.
In this generation, scoring over 40 goals is a bore and we are spoilt by the most free-flowing, attack-minded teams giving entertainers week-in week-out. AS Monaco are a beautiful example – with young, ruthless attackers leading a charge for the Ligue 1 and making it to the semis of the Champions League. At the other end of the spectrum are Juventus – happy to attack when the opportunity arises, but ruthless in stopping the ball from reaching the back of the net.
But all this is conjecture, because in my mind, Luis Suarez is the world’s best footballer at the moment. He has consistently shown himself to be quick, intelligent, reactive, explosive, dynamic and free scoring at club level. For country, he has led the charge whenever not suspended for ridiculous outbursts of arrogance or biting an opponent. Just look at his movements and link-up play for FC Barcelona against Real Madrid in this match. He seems to have a telepathic understanding of where his fellow players are. Whether it’s a clever run to put the pressure on the defense, or just a touch to keep the ball out of their reach, Suarez has an armoury that drives fear into the hearts of the most battle-hardened veterans on the field of play.
And he’s not afraid to dive in to challenges and play rough too. In 48 appearances so far in 2016-17, Luisito has scored 34 times, but he has also been sent off once and received 13 yellow cards. His reputation precedes him at times and he is far from a dirty player, but oh my word is he not afraid to get stuck in to the atmosphere and the flow of the game. And Suarez is no fluke. The season before, he scored 62 goals in 62 appearances across all competitions – garnering 12 yellow cards along the way. This stat shows a side of his game that not every one would acknowledge. Suarez is first and foremost a lethal attacker. But he does not shy from tracking back. Making the niggling foul to break a counter attack or pressing the goalkeeper hard is something you will see him do more often than not. His ruthless desire to play is gone, now replaced by a ruthless desire to win every game that he plays.
And if there is a case to be made that the Benzemas and Lukakus of the world are nearly as good, it is the fire in Suarez’s belly and the brilliant use of that desire to win that makes him truly a great of the modern game. Playing alongside the current best in Messi and future star Neymar, Suarez makes up the fulcrum of the deadly MSN attack. Without his intelligent play off the shoulder, and his diagonal runs across the defense, Barcelona would not be half the threat they currently are. Just ask one Alexis Sanchez, he played alongside Messi and Neymar, but never won an awful lot at the Catalan giants, never mind a treble.
Pep’s era was long gone. Tito Villanova and Gerardo Martino’s stints at Barcelona weren’t half as scintillating, and when Luis Enrique took over a jaded team, Suarez was the missing ingredient. The spark that ignited a fire of change at Camp Nou. More direct, more ruthless. Him and Ivan Rakitic were brought in to bring life back to the Blaugrana. Owing to an ageing core of the team, Barcelona will have to rebuild again in the immediate future. One thing they can be sure of – they already have one of the world’s best players, and definitely the best centre-forward, among their ranks.