The soccer world’s most lovable pitbull Luis Suarez turned thirty last week, celebrating a career that has now spanned 12 years of professional soccer among five different teams.
His most notable moments have of course come while wearing the Liverpool and Barcelona kits, but to think that Suarez has only been a goal hound (or had disciplinary problems) since making it to the big leagues would be incorrect.
He’s been his own lightning rod for brilliance and controversy for as long as anyone can remember. His earliest memories are barefoot and struggling on the cobbled streets of Salto, Uruguay, playing soccer at all hours of the day and night. Until the family moved to Montevideo when Suarez was 7, life was a perpetual grind.
From liverpoolecho: “We were from the lower class,” he remembers. “I never had the possibility to choose my own running shoes, for example, because of how big my family was.
“My parents did everything they could but they couldn’t buy us the things that we wanted, only what they could provide. But I was forever grateful for what they provided.”
Arriving at age 7, by age 9 Suarez was already turning heads. What he didn’t have in finesse and technical skill he made up for with his speedy relentlessness. His experiences scrapping in the street gave him a houndish fever on the pitch, constantly jostling and tricky. Traits that have remained a part of his game even as he aged.
Still, his talent wouldn’t save him from life’s hardships. Suarez’s father abandoned the family when he was 12– the spiral it put the young athlete in nearly cost him his place on the youth Nacional club team.
He would go on to strengthen his resolve to become a great footballer and rededicate himself to the game after meeting Sofia Balbi at age 15.
She would help him to steady himself enough to earn a spot on the Groningen professional team. A move Suarez was all too happy to make given that it got him closer to Sofia and her family, who had moved to Barcelona at the time.
His time on Groningen would prove to be a microcosm of the his career: He scored 10 goals in 29 appearances (impressive for any 19 year old) and in the same token he had a five game stretch in 2007 where he scored 4 goals but received 3 yellow cards and a red.
Despite his issues avoiding penalties, Ajax which would become his third professional club. Their first offer of 3.5 million euros for Suarez would be turned down, but Groningen would finally sell the talented striker for 7.5 million euros on August 9th 2007.
The move would prove to be a smart one financially and on the field for Ajax. Suarez would make 159 appearances for the club and score 111 goals. The only other players to accomplish this at Ajax were legends like Johan Cruyff, Van Basten, and Dennis Bergkamp.
But three years into his reign, Suarez’s penchant for trouble would bubble up in the form of a biting incident. During a stoppage in play Suarez bit into Otman Bakkal, and while the referee didn’t see enough of it at the time to send off Suarez he was retroactively suspended for two games by the club.
It was during the suspension that Ajax shopped Suarez around other European clubs, and Liverpool came back with the big offer of 26.5 million euros. Even amidst the suspension Suarez left Ajax a hero with a farewell send-off that was met with a stadium of applause. He officially transferred in January of 2011.
Liverpool would see the rise of Suarez’ international stardom during his three year tenure. For all his greatness– Liverpool’s player of the year in 2013, Football Supporters’ Federation Player of the Year in 2013, Football Association Writers Player of the Year 2014, first non-European to win the PFA Player of the Year Award 2014, and averaged a hat-trick every 20.3 Premier League games– making his the best rate of all 46 players to have scored more than one treble.
Still, like a mirror of his early years, Suarez lost a lot of time due to outbursts, penalties, and violations. He’d be banned eight matches in 2011 for a racial abuse incident with Patrice Evra; Suarez maintained his innocence, but ultimately was found guilty by the FA.
In 2013 Suarez would be part of a game-winning handball incident that went uncalled, as well as a second biting incident, this time against Branislav Ivanovic. Stoking the controversy, Suarez wasn’t sent off for it, and ended up scoring an equalizer in injury time.
The FA would take a hard line with Suarez, extending his sentence past the usual 3 match ban to an unprecedented 10 match ban. It’d lead to rift between him and manager Brendan Rodgers to the point that Rodgers would ask Suarez to train away from the first-team.
He’d outplay this drama in 2014, collecting multiple player of the year awards and the premier league golden boot. July of 2014 he’d sign for Barcelona for a record fee of 82.3 million euros.
And even still, he wouldn’t be able to take the field for Barcelona in a competitive match until October. He’s proven to be one of the best additions to the squad, making up the last piece of the famed trident alongside Messi and Neymar. He has managed to score more goals and assists in his first 100 games in Spain than Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. On January 11th 2017 he scored his 100th goal for Barcelona.
The move has been beneficial for Suarez, who enjoys being closer to his family (now with two kids) and has been accepted by the Spanish crowds as one of their own.
At thirty, Suarez doesn’t have much left to prove to anyone in terms of personal accolades– he still hasn’t received the Balon d’Or, a matter more of his circumstance playing alongside legends such as Messi and Ronaldo, but he doesn’t seem worried about his legacy.
The question lingers: what will become of him after his contract? The press speculates that Barcelona can’t keep on Messi, Neymar, and Suarez forever. Messi appears to be a career-lock for the club, but in two years Suarez will need to evaluate his options– and it may be the first time in his career he’s transferred without his club making millions off of him.
But then again, if he’s playing the same way at 32 that he is at 30, they might just up his pay.