Luis Suárez stressed the point. His move to Atlético Madrid provided a new challenge and while he might not have been actively seeking one, it found him. The Uruguayan had worn out his welcome at Barcelona and needed this move to rekindle the flame that has driven him to otherworldly success as an international footballing superstar. That flame also turned him into a movie villain caricature, adored and scorned in equal measure.
The word “genius” is vague and overused, but per its literal definition, Suárez is one — someone who shows “exceptional creative power or other natural ability.” A precocious talent, Suárez contains multitudes.
In Suárez’s world on the pitch, there is order but there is no law. He will beat you whatever way he can and that includes embarrassing dives, referee manipulation and forcing defenders into moral quandaries. “Do I succumb to this man’s histrionics or do I rise above?”
“I’d go so far as to say that the manner in which he approached the game, with utter contempt for us all, means that he’s streets ahead of any player I’ve truly disliked since I’ve been in the Premier League,” former Swansea City defender Ashley Williams once said.
Suarez was described as a “dirty street rat” by Oldham Athletic manager Lee Johnson in 2014 — “in the best way possible,” he said.
If there’s one thing Suárez is better at than scoring goals, it’s getting under someone’s skin. Only the fanatic who has developed a pathological devotion to the tribe could defend him when he acts like this. Suárez knows that once he has you in that place, where Williams said he wanted to “knock him out,” he knows he has you beaten. All that’s left is to finish you off with a strike that nestles in the bottom corner, a curling finish into the top corner, a header beyond the keeper’s reach.
The world of Luis Suárez — footballer, genius, lunatic — is a complicated one. But it’s one you can’t take your eyes off.
The impossible transfer
There are rumoured transfers talked about so much that you almost convince yourself that they actually happened — Edinson Cavani to Atlético Madrid, Wesley Sneijder to Manchester United. Then there are transfers that were never meant to happen, that seemed impossible, and they get stranger the more you think about them.
Luis Suárez to Atlético will forever remain surreal.
On Sunday, Suárez debuted for Atlético and did what he does; he became the axis on which the game spun. Forget the record teenage signing finally coming good on his prodigious talent. Or the scoreline — 6-1, a rare Diego Simeone spectacle. It was Suárez who drew the attention, with an assist to Marcos Llorente on his second touch and two goals before full time.
In a 2014 article on the player, Write Thompson wrote
“Suarez wears many masks, each of them true in the moment he puts them on, but perhaps nothing reveals his truest self like the mask he wears when he’s threatened, for that is the one that shows all the hurt he wants to hide.”
The very essence of story-telling contains narratives. People don’t remember facts, they remember stories. It’s not a case of rote learning a list of anecdotes, it’s about understanding how they fit together even if they don’t.
Suárez histrionics are not carefully choreographed, and no single meaning can be extracted from his history because Suárez is an enigma — and the same things that drive him can also bring him close to the abyss. He is a paradox of a man, spitting venom at linesman one minute, whispering into a microphone in a post-match interview minutes later.
In his poem “The Conflict of Convictions,” Herman Melville wrote:
I know a wind in purpose strong/It spins against the way it drives.
There are constantly two things pushing Suárez. Necessity, which is the way he spins. And protecting himself from those who threaten him and those he loves, the way he drives. They often overlap.
At 15, Suárez lost his childhood sweetheart, Sofia, when she moved to Barcelona from Montevideo with her family. I will get so good that Barcelona will one day want to sign me, he declared in what seemed an impossible dream at the time.
The teenage kid nicknamed El Conejito — the little rabbit — was warned that he would be kicked out of Nacional if he misbehaved once more when he had acted out one too many times.
Protecting himself from those who threaten him.
“I promise I won’t let you down,” Suarez told Wilson Pirez, the scout who discovered him as a nine-year-old and who staked his reputation to get Suárez another chance. “From now on, football will come first. I promise you that, Mr. Pirez.”
He didn’t let him down.
Suárez needs both and they often co-exist. It’s clear which the 33-year-old had lost at Barcelona. The Athletic reported in September that some of Suárez’s teammates wanted him out of Camp Nou along with the president and the new coach. The Uruguay international knew it was time to leave, to link up with a coach and a club where he could feel loved again.
When Suárez was banned for biting Giorgio Chiellini in the 2014 World Cup, he sought refuge in Montevideo, where he threw a party for his former Nacional teammates — people he hadn’t seen in years, people he felt safe around. When Barcelona made it clear he was no longer wanted, he found refuge in a manager who needs exactly what Suárez sells, somewhere he will feel loved and where he can prove wrong those who doubted him.
Cholo Simeone has said Suárez brings exactly what Atlético need: “ilusión, aggression and desire.” The same Cholo who protects his players through trial and tribulation. The same manager who declared “I am with those in my family to the death” when fans whistled Antoine Griezmann during a Madrid Derby. Another manager on another day might have avoided taking sides.
Who knows how long Suárez’s knee will hold out, or what he has left in the tank? What he does have now, though, is a manager who believes in him. He has a purpose with the lingering feeling of disrespect from some at Barcelona.
“Luis Suárez Draws as Much Scorn as Love,” read a 2012 New York Times headline. The reason for this is there is more than one side to Suárez. They are wildly different, but both serve a the same purpose most of the time — to protect himself and his family.