21st Century Greats – Luis Suarez

As Barcelona lined up a club record £70 million bid for Liverpool striker Luis Suarez in the summer of 2014, many questioned why they were willing to risk so much on damaged goods.

They were signing a man who has been banned a combined 32 games for racist and cannibalistic tendencies during his career. His reputation was at an all-time low after yet another biting incident, this time on the world’s biggest stage in a World Cup group match against Italy.

It was strike three, you’re out for Suarez as he got one of the longest bans given to an elite player in international football – he is still banned as a result of the incident.

By doing so, Suarez achieved the unique feat of being the villain of two consecutive World Cups.

At the 2010 World Cup in Africa, he angered an entire continent with a blatant handball off the line to deny Ghana a clear winner and a first World Cup semi-final for an African team to boot.

Suarez certainly knows how to provoke ire amongst footballers, fans and managers alike yet he stars in attack alongside one of the greatest players of all-time for the best team in Europe on a very generous wage. Why is one of football’s most divisive figures worth all the hassle?

It is because the animalistic rawness of Suarez’s character that has reared its ugly head on a number of occasions also has another more beneficial effect.

There is a sense of freedom in Suarez’s game, where nothing is off-limits for the Uruguayan and it gives him a street-fighter-like ability to outfox more cultured opponents in the heat of battle.

Suarez’s propensity for nutmegging is a sign of this street-fighter instinct. On the streets, there is a popular game called Panna Ko, where executing a panna (a nutmeg) in a one-on-one situation results in your opponent being eliminated from the game.

It is the ultimate act of humiliation on the street and Suarez is always looking to everything he possibly can to beat and humiliate a defender.

Sometimes this might mean a beautiful piece of skill but he is also not afraid of using the darker arts, arguing with referees, diving and playacting are also used to gain an advantage.

While he is an unpredictable, individualistic menace, he is also an excellent team player and has the ability to elevate an entire team to new levels.

In 2013-14 Premier League season, Liverpool were only a slip away from their first English league title since 1990.

It is no exaggeration to say that Suarez had one of the best seasons of any player in the Premier League era. He led from example from the front, scoring 31 goals without penalties and assisting many others.

Without Suarez the following season, Liverpool stumbled to sixth place, scoring half as many goals. In the 2011 Copa America, Uruguay were the beneficiaries of an inspired Suarez, who led them to their first international win in fifteen years.

When Suarez made the step up to Barcelona in 2014, he immediately fitted in with a plethora of world-class stars, scoring five goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League as Barcelona completed the treble. It is a credit to Suarez’s ability on the field that indiscretions on it have merely damaged and not destroyed his footballing reputation.

By David Gorman

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