Luis Suarez arrived at the Camp Nou floating on a swirl of controversy and forced apology following his biting of Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. Liverpool, in many ways, were powerless to resist his desire to leave the club. Indeed, many suggested that Suarez’s latest crime was a step too far for the Reds and it was time to part ways with the divisive pantomime Uruguayan in order to protect the club’s reputation.
Either way, the Merseyside club, despite its own stature and the previous season’s miraculous attempt to reinstate itself at the top of the Premier League tree, seemed resigned to losing their most talented individual to a titan of European football. Barcelona came knocking and Liverpool were, due to the brilliance of the player, able to demand a huge sum for the striker.
It was one of the sport’s quietest, most ineluctable, yet high-profile pieces of business in the last decade. Liverpool, though little was said at the time and has been said since due to the sense of necessity that came with his sale, must feel gratitude to Suarez for his extraordinary displays during his time there. A sublime talent, he elevated the club almost single-handedly back to the summit of English football. Suarez won the Premier League Player of the Season award for 2013/14, managing to score 31 goals in just 33 games. Had he not forced Liverpool’s hand with another savage act in Brazil, there is little doubt Rodgers would have fought harder to keep hold of such an outstanding player.
Suarez was the talisman, the goalscorer and the tireless engine that kept the Liverpool attacking machine running at full pelt for 90 minutes in every match. The most influential player in Europe, according to a study by Bloomberg in May 2014. At Barcelona, things were bound to be different.
It is, of course, only natural that Suarez – and most players of his ilk – would have a greater influence in a team with fewer world class players. Their talent comes to the fore simply because it must. Their teammates rely on them to do most things, if not everything, in the offensive arena. Most importantly, they deliver.
There are few qualms over the height of his transfer fee and I am yet to hear an opinion contrary to the popular one that he is a truly wonderful player. However, played alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar at the Camp Nou, the Uruguayan’s role is not as central as it was at Anfield. Unfortunately, people may start to judge him for that.
That his role is less significant in the context of the team and that people will judge him for such are two things that are out of his control. One thing that is firmly in his grasp is his work-rate, which has always been first class and ought to guarantee that he is a success at Barcelona. The measure of success, however, must be different to how he was evaluated at Liverpool since he will not be the primary goal threat, nor will he be the best player.
Barcelona have and will continue to reserve that position for Lionel Messi, whose talent needs no further elaboration. The priority given to Messi’s needs and desires on the pitch, however, is something to which Suarez will have to become accustomed. Everything revolves around Messi, and so Suarez will be obliged to do so as well.
Alexis Sanchez, whose talents have received a more-than-generous sprinkling of praise from the English media since his arrival at Arsenal, was deemed surplus to requirements at Barcelona. He didn’t score enough goals and his style, albeit tireless and tricky, was not considered beneficial enough to Messi’s game.
Suarez, who is just as hard-working as Sanchez and a better finisher as well, will spend many games frustrated as far as goals are concerned. Hat-tricks will go to Messi, while Suarez will be expected to draw defenders away from the Argentine genius with smart, incessant running. Thus far, Suarez looks more than capable of doing that and is picking up the odd goal too. If the form of Barcelona’s three front men continues in this vein, just weeks after murmurs of a crisis under Luis Enrique’s charge, Suarez’s undoubted talent will be fully realised in Catalunya.
We just have to judge him as part of that seemingly unstoppable trio, not purely as the phenomenal individual he was at Liverpool.