Can Barcelona’s front line be considered one of the greatest of all time once Luis Suarez joins Lionel Messi and Neymar?
Luis Suarez will have been back from his four month ban for 10 days when his autobiography Crossing The Line is released next month. The publishers are British; the target market was intended to be Liverpool fans who adored the Uruguayan. In it, he’ll be repentant about some of his errors on a football field.
Ahead of Saturday’s Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona, in which Suarez will likely make his highly anticipated return with his new club, Barcelona – “He’ll Play!” according to the front page of Thursday’s Sport – opinions will fly around about the controversial star.
When Barcelona paid a club record 74 million euro fee for him this summer, they knew they were buying a great player, but also one considered damaged goods. The litany of his transgressions is rather long, of course; the latest happened when Suarez, playing for Uruguay, bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. For Barcelona to justify the risk of the signing not just to their millions of fans, but their global sponsors, they needed him to apologise. This he did.
Luis Suarez joins a potent attacking force with Neymar and Lionel Messi.
Then Barca began a public relations exercise which continues to this day. Without playing a single competitive game, Suarez is on the front cover of the current club magazine. A great deal was made of him winning the European Golden Shoe, too. The Barca shirt with his name is sold prominently around the seven official souvenir shops in the city. He’s been pictured modelling an awkward combination of double denim club merchandise alongside other A-list players.
Barca want him to feel at home and have several advantages in making that possible. The Catalans began courting Suarez earlier this year. They knew that he loved the city, the long-time home of his in-laws. When he visited in May to promote a partnership with a poker company (he was subsequently dropped after the Chiellini biting episode) he gave answers about his future that wouldn’t have reassured Liverpool fans. By that time, he knew he was leaving and had already told friends in private in Liverpool. What happened in Sao Paulo in June speeded up the process.
Barcelona told Suarez that he was the right age to join them and that he had the right level of experience.
“We had known for many years that Luis Suarez likes our club, likes our city,” said club president Josep Bartomeu. “So everything was perfect and created the perfect atmosphere for Luis Suarez to accept. And we know that he had better offers than our offer but he came to Barcelona.”
Barca regularly claim that new signings had bigger offers elsewhere, as if they wanted to come to Camp Nou because they are motivated by more than money. The club is undeniably attractive to players, but with Suarez it was simple economics. A world-class talent, the only teams who could afford his demands were in England, Paris and Spain. With the English bridge burned and Suarez talking about the English media having it in for him, he was left with Paris, Barcelona and Madrid. Liverpool tried to do a deal for him and compatriot Edinson Cavani with PSG, but Suarez preferred Spain. The deal was quickly concluded.
Did Barcelona question his acquisition after his bite?
“We didn’t rethink this decision and we told him that,” Bartomeu told CNN. “He apologised. That’s very important for us. That means he knows that he did not do things properly.”
Suarez was presented with the Golden Boot award for scoring the most league goals, 31, in Europe last season. Can he repeat that form at Barcelona?
Asked whether the club is confident that Suarez can be trusted to behave, Bartomeu replied: “This is a question that a lot of people now ask us, but we are confident and he has to see that the club is giving him a chance.”
A 75 million euro chance.
He’s “a nice guy who is different off the pitch to how he is on it,” said his long time international teammate Diego Forlan, who has “spoken to [Suarez] a lot since I first played against him in a warm up game when he was in Uruguay’s Under-20s as they prepared for their World Cup in Canada.
“Luis was already aguerrido — a warrior, a soldier — who has been through war, a fighter for every ball,” added Forlan.
It’s that combativeness that Suarez now brings to Barcelona. His part in a strike triumvirate with Lionel Messi and Neymar could be as effective as Madrid’s BBC – Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. He offers something different from both players — indeed any player at Barca. He needs his move to Barca to work and his club need their record transfer to work.
Fans are circumspect. They already have a superb attack with Messi, Neymar, Pedro and Munir, but Madrid have their BBC. Signing Suarez could tip the balance in favour of Barca. Now he just needs to prove his worth, keep his nose clean and win back lost support. Then more people will consider buying his autobiography.