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Barcelona had to wait four months for Luis Suarez, the suspension for biting Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup not dissuading the Catalans from forking out £65 million amid the doubt and mistrust borne from his long list of previous.
Having signed him in July, Barcelona waited until October for the Uruguayan to make his debut, providing an assist for Neymar in a 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid.
They had to wait until a month later for Suarez to net his first goal, in a Champions League drubbing of APOEL Nicosia, while another month passed before he got his first La Liga goal, in the 5-0 thrashing of Cordoba.
17 months later and Suarez has 84 goals from 95 games with Barcelona and has won six trophies during that time.
An astonishing 59 of them have come this season, winning him the European Golden Shoe while the 40 scored in the league won the Pichichi Trophy, two individual accolades that brought with them a resounding sense that Barca have been rewarded for their faith and patience. Suarez’s latest goals came in the 0-3 win over Granada last Saturday, scoring a hat-trick to seal Barcelona’s sixth title win in 8 years.
Spanish paper Marca called it ‘Lucho’s League’ in Sunday’s edition while AS named the Uruguayan as the ‘big hero of this season’. In EL Larguero he was called the “protagonist of this league”, stepping up when Lionel Messi and Neymar, his cohorts in the devastating MSN triumvirate, had hit injuries or problems.
And that was true; when Messi’s injury ruled him out for a month back in October, Suarez hit 10 goals. When the goals dried up for Neymar in January after an electric start, Suarez thrived, hitting 30.
Delivering when it matters the most
When the slump arrived in April, when Barca fell to Atletico in the Champions League before losing to Real Madrid and Valencia in the league, plunging them into doubt as the title race was blown wide open, Suarez assumed the mantle, being directly involved in 18 of the 24 goals (14 scored, 4 assisted) Barcelona racked up in the final five games as they dipped their heads over the finish line first.
Real Madrid have been in stunning form since Zinedine Zidane took charge at the Bernabeu, dropping just 7 of the 60 points on offer since the Frenchman assumed control, and there has been huge pressure on Barca since he won his first Clasico at the start of April.
Yet Barcelona have had the quality and fierce competitiveness of Suarez, a striker who is as determined for the first kick of the season as he is the last, and Madrid could find no answer. Not even Cristiano Ronaldo, who passed the 50 goal-mark for a sixth season in a row, could live with the Uruguayan.
With the maliciousness that has always simmered under the surface so far tempered by Luis Enrique, his 18 bookings to date the closest anybody can come to finding traits of indiscipline, it is indeed no hyperbole to say Suarez fired Barcelona to this latest title.
Enrique has been repaid for the faith he placed in Suarez when the player arrived banned and with many questions hanging over him, but he has also been vindicated for the bold decision to play Suarez as the number 9 whilst displacing Messi, irresistible for so long after Pep Guardiola moved him to the centre, out to the right.
“I never imagined playing in this position because Leo was playing as the No.9” says Suarez, who claims the extraordinary bond between the strikers, as well as Neymar, has contributed to his seamless adaptation to the demands of Catalonia.
He has also flourished as a team player, his 16 assists in the league is bettered by nobody, but his main power is remaining the dead-eyed, powerful force that bullies defenders in the vicinity of the goal. The MSN trio has combined for 130 goals in total this season but there is no doubting out of those three beasts who, figuratively speaking, has the sharpest teeth when it comes to bagging goals.
Suarez has accounted for almost half of that figure and at a blinding rate of striking efficiency. His 40 league goals have come from only 137 shots, in contrast to the 224 shots it took Ronaldo to clock up 35.
Breaking the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly
La Liga, so used to having Messi and Ronaldo, who have shared the Ballon D’Or between them over the past 7 years, dominating the scene now have Suarez threatening that duopoly. Suarez already has the top scorer award and the European golden boot, and will surely win Player of the Year at the usually belated LFP gala held in the autumn.
It is hard to ignore the fact that the Uruguayan is now beginning to eclipse Messi, now cast into a deeper, more supportive role, and Ronaldo, whose outrageous form is continually let down by the neglect in other areas of his Madrid side.
If the Uruguayan, back in his national squad after being suspended for nine matches for his bite on Chiellini, has an impressive Copa America this summer then he may find himself breaking the Ronaldo/Messi grip on the Ballon D’Or.
That would represent a remarkable turnaround in fortunes given the hefty sanctions he received from FIFA nearly two years ago.
Eyeing more success
Suarez’s sights will now be set on the opportunity to win a seventh title with Barca, against Sevilla in the Copa Del Rey final on Sunday, and the chance to reach 60 goals for the campaign.
Always full of hunger and relentless desire, don’t be surprised if Suarez is lifting another trophy inside the Calderon on Sunday after helping himself to another glut of goals.
With his mind immediately switched to the next lot. One more mark on the route to the very top to the late blooming 29 year old.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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