Manero

Suárez: The Missing Piece

By: Alfonso Duro

There’s no doubt Lionel Messi is the best player at FC Barcelona—err, the world.

Anyone who has been watching the team in the last four months couldn’t possibly deny the Argentine has once again taken the reins of his career and, in doing so, will likely lead Barça to a spectacular treble for the second time in six years.

But what’s the real difference between Tata Martino’s unimpressive Barcelona of last year and Luis Enrique’s all-out attacking machine of this season? One can argue that Piqué has come back to full form, that Rakitić has added depth in the middle the team had lost since Xavi’s golden years and, of course, there’s Messi’s rebirth. Still, the only variable in the equation that supports such a glorious 180-degree change is none other than Luis Suárez.

La Pulga is unstoppable, no doubt, but he can’t do it all by himself. And while Neymar steals the flashes and toys with the image of the chosen one to be the next super footballer on the planet, it is Luis Suárez who has been consistently exceeding expectations in his first year as a blaugrana.

AGAINST ALL ODDS. Suárez didn’t arrive at Barcelona in the best conditions. On a team where every detail is taken care of (isn’t it strange that suddenly Neymar, Messi and Suárez always look for each other to celebrate goals together?), signing a player with such a record behind him was not the most straightforward decision for the board.

It was obvious the team needed a striker since David Villa’s departure a year earlier, but others like Lewandowski, van Persie or Cavani fit the institutional image a lot better than Suárez. After all, he had been banned for 10 matches the year prior for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, missed the first four months of the competition with Barça after his infamous encounter with Chiellini in the World Cup and had previously had run-ins with Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand involving racist comments from the Uruguayan.

It was a tough sell to get people to look at Luis Suárez as anything other than a criminal, at least by the unimaginably hypocritical high moral standards of professional soccer, but his tenacity and unwillingness to let himself go ultimately worked the miracle.

If after missing a third of the competition you are still able to finish off the league with 16 goals and 14 assists, you can consider yourself one of the chosen ones. But Suárez has not only impressed on the stats tables; he has made an impact so large on the team that nobody is even questioning the 94 million euros paid for his transfer.

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH... Because professional clubs spend millions of euros to get the best stars around, they look for specialists in every position; players who can do things others in the squad can’t in hopes that the pieces will magically fit together and a properly functional team will emerge. Still, there are things that money can’t buy, and character and a fighting spirit are among the top of the list of these qualities.

Players who will come to the rescue when all seems lost are the ones that should be worth investing in, and Luis Suárez is undoubtedly part of that club. At Liverpool he proved he could take on the world by himself, but this year, surrounded by the Barcelona stars, he also has shown he can shine brighter than anyone.

After becoming fully fit, the Culés have taken advantage of the most dangerous striker in the world, and his goals against Real Madrid, PSG or his ridiculously brilliant plays at Allianz Arena against Bayern Munich are just a token of what he can do.

In Berlin, against Juventus during the UEFA Champions League final, Suárez will face yet another test, as he will play against former foes Patrice Evra and Giorgios Chiellini. But if he can get over his past nightmares, Luis Suárez could seize Berlin all by himself.

Alfonso Duro is a Spanish freelance writer. When he's not managing Google's agency in the United Arab Emirates (his current job), chances are he's watching and writing about soccer.