ADITYA GOKHALE | 27th September 2020

Having watched Luis Suárez play for Barça for the better part of 6 years was a weird experience. It was frustrating yet phenomenal. Any Barça fan would back me up on this. There were times when I thought, how is this man a professional footballer and there were others when I thought, how could a player be this good? He is the kind of player you would love to the core if he plays for your team and absolutely despise if he doesn’t. There is no in-between.

While I was always an advocate, personally, for Luis to leave in 2018 and was one of his worst critics over the course of the last season; I just feel sad watching him actually say goodbye. The press conference for me actually felt worse from an emotional point of view than Puyol and Xavi’s farewell. The only more sorrowful farewell was that of Andrés Iniesta as he was and will always be my favorite footballer of all-time. But the reason behind Luisito’s farewell being much more emotional was the fact that he didn’t really want to leave, nor was his contract up at the end of the season, but that he was being forced out of the club.

That too only for the reason that Josep Maria Bartomeu wanted to win back the trust of the socis by somehow showing that the revolution he promised was a little more than just a box of lies. I could talk about this for ages but that is a can of worms for another time. This piece is all about Barcelona’s greatest striker of all time, Luis Alberto Suárez.

When we signed Luisito back in 2014, at the end of the World Cup, I was in two minds. I absolutely loved Luis Suárez, the player but was extremely skeptical about Luis Suárez, the person. I feared he would not fit into the team that was almost a family. It was a team full of calm, peace-loving, family men. Suárez had this air of controversy around him all the time, the Evra racial abuse case, the Ivanović bite and then just a few days before Barça signed him, the infamous Chiellini bite incident on the biggest stage in the sporting world.

When we eventually signed him, he had received a 4-month ban from all footballing activities and that didn’t do any favors to appease Barça fans of their worries about how the Uruguayan would fit in with the squad after missing pre-season and not playing till the end of October 2014. However, when he did finally make his debut for the first team against Real Madrid, it appeared that he already had a brimming relationship with Neymar and also assisted the Brazilian for Barça’s only goal in the 3-1 defeat. However, it was the turn of the year when he really stepped on the gas.

Watching him play that year and the next was probably on par with watching Lionel Messi in 2011 and 2012. It was not only a goalscoring masterclass but his overall game had improved so much so that everything about the move made complete sense. Often, things, both in football as well as life don’t pan out as perfectly as you expect them to; this wasn’t one of those things. Suárez was unplayable.

Reminiscing, I have to say that he was probably one of the most exciting players I have ever watched. He could create a goal out of absolutely nothing, like his first goal in the Champions League against APOEL where he pulled out that trademark Suárez dummy while his back was towards the goal and then beat a defender like he wasn’t there to score with a wonderful strike into the top corner. It was moments like those where Barcelona fans truly knew what a gem they had on their hands.

During the 2014/15 season, the turning point for the season was a 3-1 victory against Atlético Madrid where we got to see the iconic MSN celebration. This was a big relief for me and a lot of culers as only a week ago, Luis Enrique had dropped both Neymar and Messi from the squad after there had been multiple reports over the Christmas and New Year period that the squad wasn’t happy with the inclusion of Suárez and that the Argentine was looking for a transfer to Chelsea. He followed multiple Chelsea stars on Instagram and in today’s day and age, this is how you put two and two together when it comes to most things, unfortunately.

Seeing Messi, Neymar and Suárez smiling and laughing together meant culers were now at peace that the rumors were nothing more than rumors.

Barcelona faced off against PSG in the 2014/15 CL quarter-finals as they looked to win the prestigious continental title for the first time since 2011. However, Barça was under the pressure of facing the French champions as they had already played them twice in the group stages without having been dominant in both games. But this time around, they had the excellence of Luis Suárez to bail them out. Watching Luisito nutmeg David Luiz twice and going on to score both times gave us a feeling that something absolutely special was underway. Suárez came in absolutely clutch scoring in both the legs against PSG. He followed it up with a wonderful game against Bayern at the Camp Nou and in the final against Juventus as well, scoring Barça’s second.

The 2015/16 season was probably the most enjoyable version of Luis for me. A goalscoring machine as well as a playmaker of the highest order, with Messi having been out injured for almost 4 and half months, it was prime time for Neymar and Luis to showcase whether they can perform without Messi and perform they did. Both of them turned up and some. Suárez was an absolutely unstoppable monster, scoring from all sorts of situations while still getting his usual assists. Culers went into games not thinking about whether they would win or not but thinking how many goals Suárez and Neymar would muster up. Everybody at the club felt that the second treble was definitely up next.

However, one poor game in the Champions League quarter-final against Atléti at the Vicente Calderón meant it wasn’t to be. An extremely poor game by Suárez and Rakitic meant we would go down 3-2 in a controversial manner after an Iniesta handball outside the box was given as a penalty and a Gabi handball in added time was dismissed by the referee, despite the linesman having given the handball. This game was probably the first glimpse of the frustrating Suárez of the future as the Uruguayan missed two 1-on-1 chances, albeit against an inform Oblak.

The rest of the season went pretty quietly, but it was 2016/17 where he had started becoming slightly wasteful in front of goal and was booed at the Camp Nou. However, he still had the ability to be in the right place at the right time to slot in the goals and kept up his league scoring record. The same went on in 2017/18. This was especially frustrating for me because we had a very good backup striker in Paco Alcácer who never got his chance as Suárez had the No.9 slot on lock. Luis had lost that willingness and strength to press and run behind the ball, game in and game out. He still was a proficient striker but I knew that he was no longer ‘the’ striker. However, he stayed on and that eventually cost us the league title and then came the famous debacle of Rome.

I had advocated everywhere that Suárez had to bid farewell after the game in Rome, however now that he is actually leaving, I feel bad and wished he didn’t. Watching him cry during his farewell did make my eyes misty. I know it is very hypocritical of me, to first curse the legend for almost 2 years, hoping he’d leave my team, but that’s just how the world works. You don’t respect someone till you no longer have them by your side. Looking back at his career as I write this piece, I just picture the good times- his hattrick against Madrid, his destruction of David Luiz, his multiple cheeky volleys and backheels and always standing up when someone tried to bully his friends. You already know what I’m referring to here.

The end of an era

He will as we look always remain, no matter what happens in the future, the greatest Barcelona striker Of all time. Good luck to him and Atlético and I hope he does well against Real Madrid as he always has.

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