“Suarez is the best striker in the world and I think he has now made it into the world’s best three with [Lionel] Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.” – Jamie Carragher
Controversy has never been too far away from Luis Suarez, so it is testament to his extraordinary ability on a football field that a number of contentious incidents have not prevented him from reaching the very top. Not many people would disagree with Carragher’s statement that Suarez is the leading centre-forward on the planet, while some would go further and assert that he is now second only to Lionel Messi across all positions. Still only 29, there is probably plenty more to come from the former Nacional, Groningen, Ajax and Liverpool man, too.
Born in the city of Salto in the extreme northwest of Uruguay in January 1987, Suarez’s talent was clear for all to see from a very young age. He joined Nacional in the capital of Montevideo at 14 and quickly became one of the most promising players in the club’s academy, but an unwelcome episode two years later was a sign of things to come in terms of Suarez’s conduct: after being shown a red card in a youth game, the striker headbutted the referee who had dismissed him. There were serious doubts around that time as to whether Suarez’s temperament would stand in his way on the path towards a professional career in the game, with one coach telling the youngster that he would never make it unless his behaviour improved dramatically.
Suarez did manage to turn things around, though, and he was rewarded with a first-team debut against Colombian outfit Junior de Barranquilla in the Copa Libertadores in May 2005, four months after his 18th birthday. The teenager went on to make 34 appearances for Nacional that season – he found the back of the net on 12 occasions in all competitions – before being snapped up by Eredivisie side Groningen, who discovered Suarez while scouting another player in Uruguay. 15 goals in 37 outings convinced Dutch giants Ajax to sign the centre-forward for €7.5 million in 2007, a deal the player himself helped to push through by complaining to the KNVB when Groningen rejected Ajax’s first bid.
Suarez’s first appearance for the club of Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff came in a Champions League qualifier against Slavia Prague at the start of the 2007/08 campaign. Ajax finished as runners-up in the Eredivisie that year, as well as exiting the UEFA Cup in the first round, but Suarez’s season was much more successful on an individual level, with 22 goals contributed in his first 42 games. A further 28 were plundered by the Uruguayan in 2008/09, when Ajax dropped to third in the Dutch top tier, before Suarez exploded the following year, scoring a remarkable 49 times in 48 matches as de Godenzonen finished second to Steve McClaren’s Twente. It was his incredible form that season which earned Suarez his big-money move to the Premier League in January 2011, although the then 23-year-old did remain at Ajax for the first half of 2010/11 before swapping Amsterdam for Liverpool.
The 18-time English champions forked out €26.5 million to bring Suarez to Merseyside; although a sizeable fee at the time, the acquisition would later prove to be a significant bargain. The former Nacional striker was not exactly prolific in his first few months at Anfield, however, making the net ripple on only four occasions in his 13 appearances in a Liverpool shirt that season. His all-round displays were promising, though, and Suarez did improve in 2011/12, when he scored 17 goals in the Premier League and domestic cup competitions.
His campaign was somewhat overshadowed by a controversial episode in October, however: Suarez was accused of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in a Premier League encounter, with the FA later finding him guilty and handing him an eight-match suspension. Although he recovered to score 30 goals in 44 games in 2012/13, Suarez went on to attract more negative headlines by biting Branislav Ivanovic in a top-flight clash with Chelsea, an incident which resulted in a 10-game ban. Some called on the Reds to cut their ties with Suarez in the aftermath of that event, but the club decided to keep faith with their man and were richly rewarded in 2013/14, when he scored 31 goals, won the PFA Player of the Year award and almost led Liverpool to the Premier League title.
The Merseysiders tried their hardest to retain their star man for another year, but Suarez believed the chance to join Barcelona too good to refuse. €82.3 million was the transfer fee required to secure his services this time; and once again, the Uruguayan has been worth every cent. Suarez did take a while to get going as he sought to adapt to the Spanish league after three and a half years in England but was exceptional once he found his feet, scoring 25 goals in 2014/15 as Luis Enrique’s side won a treble of La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey.
Barca retained their domestic title in 2015/16 but fell short in Europe, with eventual runners-up Atletico Madrid triumphing in an all-Spanish quarter-final between the pair. Suarez was simply sensational throughout the season, though, netting an astonishing 59 goals in 53 appearances as he, Messi and Neymar established themselves as one of the greatest forward trios in the history of the sport.
Along with the four league championships and one continental trophy he has won at club level, Suarez has also lifted silverware on the international stage. The 2011 Copa America was one of the best moments in Uruguay’s recent history, with Oscar Tabarez leading Los Charruas to glory in neighbouring Argentina; a year previously, meanwhile, the two-time World Cup winners reached the last four of the competition for the first time since 1970. Things were rather different in 2014, however: Uruguay crashed out in the round of 16 but Suarez did not even make it beyond the group stage after being thrown out of the tournament for another bite, with Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini his victim on this occasion.
Things have at least quietened down since then, with Suarez seeming to decide that it would be better for everyone if he simply let his football do the talking. Everyone, that is, except opposition defenders.