I’m not going to lie; sometimes I want to kill this man. Especially this season. After a 2015-2016 season in which he, along with Neymar, led Barça through a season in which Messi was injured; this season that has just passed has left me wanting more. The same can be said for the whole team. In a nutshell; this season was a failure. There are many reasons why Barça “failed” this season and Suárez’s lack-of-form is one of them. Yet here, at seasons end, he is still a top-50 player and in my opinion: he is irreplaceable for Barça. Yes, it is true that due to Barça’s incompetence in the transfer market there is also no one to push Suárez for his spot in the starting-eleven. But even if someone was to arrive; replacing Suárez would be a tough task.
This is because there are things Suárez does that not many others do. What makes Suárez so valuable is his off-ball movement. In an era where people literally don’t watch matches and just look at players stats as if this is the NBA: Suárez’s qualities can sometimes be overlooked. For example; Cavani scored 49 goals in all competitions and Lewandowski scored 43. Yet to most football fans, Cavani is not better than Suárez as their stats suggest and some have Lewandowksi on par with Suárez. What makes Suárez irreplaceable stats don’t show. It’s his ability to know where to be at the right time. His ability to draw defenders to him and clear space for Messi and Neymar to operate. It’s his ability to create for himself. Some may want him out of Barça and I understand them. Sports are about what has been done lately, not what has been done in the past. Because of this, I understand those who want him out. But this would be a mistake.
It would be a mistake because you won’t find another striker in the world that does not need the ball to be successful. Few players in the world can create goal-scoring opportunities without the ball and Luis Suárez is one of them. Yes, I agree that he has been incredibly wasteful this season and sometimes I may want to figuratively strangle him through my TV but in this moment in time, for this team, Luis Suárez is as irreplaceable as you can get. Football fans and especially Barça fans can’t be victims of the moment. Yes it was a tough season and yes it didn’t end as we had hoped. But although Luis Suárez may have been one of the reasons for Barça’s sub-par season he also could be the reason Barça win more trophies in the future.
I have faith in him that he’ll find his best form soon. Now Barça have a new coach and a new system. I’m not sure how Valverde will use Suárez but I’m not worried. Suárez is a winner. He’s done it in Holland, England and has now succeeded in Spain. I’m sure he’ll succeed under Valverde because even after a tough season I trust him. I see his importance to this Barça squad and I see how he makes the difference while on the pitch. Goals are important and the reason football is played but sometimes goals don’t tell the whole story; at least not with Suárez. He’s a player defined but what he can do without the ball and by how his being on the pitch creates goal-scoring opportunities for others. I trust Luis Suárez and I will support him until his last day at Futbol Club Barcelona. Why? Because he is a fighter; a winner.
I didn’t know it then, but in the 6th minute of Barça’s away match against Sevilla, in the Spanish Super Cup, we would see a microcosm of what Suárez season would be. As Busquets played a magnificent through ball to Suárez, like many times this season, I got ready to celebrate a goal that wouldn’t come. That’s what most of Suárez’s 2016-2017 season was. A series of missed opportunities.
In La Liga, he continued to rack up goals as ever before. Scoring a hat-trick to start the season and then scoring in five of the next ten La Liga matches before being suspended for accumulation of yellow cards for the match against Malaga at the Camp Nou in which Barça would yet again drop valuable points at home during a rocky start to the season. But Suárez would come up big when it mattered most; scoring the first goal in a Clásico which ended in a 1-1 tie after Sergio Ramos, it couldn’t be anyone else, would score a header in the dying seconds to steal a point for Los Blancos. Suárez would then score in six of the next eight La Liga fixtures. But even though at times, Suárez was scoring, Barcelona was underperforming as they did all season. To end the season Suárez would score in ten of the sixteen but this was not enough as Real Madrid would win their first title in five years. Statistically, Luis Suárez had an abysmal Champions League campaign.
He only scored in two of the nine matches in which he played as Barcelona were knocked out in the quarter-finals by the eventual finalist Juventus. But this is where statistics fall short. As I’ve already said there are some things that statistics do not measure. And in some ways this is what Suárez season was also about. Suárez perfected his movement off the ball. He created pathways for Messi to run in behind and he was a presence up front in an attack that at times was lost during a tumultuous season. Case and point of how Suárez evolved into a player who created without the ball is the miraculous comeback against Paris-Saint Germain. No matter how you feel about that moment or the match; you can’t deny the effect that Suárez movement off the ball had. His movement, coupled with an exquisite Messi pass was the beginning of “La Remontada.”
It may not have been a bicycle kick nor was it an acrobatic finish. It was a simple movement which led to a penalty which in turn led to a legendary Barcelona victory. Sometimes it’s more than just about the goals. Suarez’s 2017 season is a testament to the idea that some players can be just as important with the ball than without it. In a season of more lows than highs; where expectations were not met, it is the opportune moment to reflect on the little things. Results blind us and trophies lead us to only celebrate wins and not even realize how each player contributes to those wins. This season has led me to appreciate Suárez more. Although it is true that I literally wanted to strangle Suárez through my TV screen most of the season; I appreciate him even more now.
Here’s to Suárez returning to his best next season. Here’s to the return of the efficient Suárez. Here’s to the return of the best version of Barcelona’s gordo. But even after the last season, where he was as wasteful as ever; I still love my boy. He fought and tried his best. And he should be respected for that. Here’s to Luis Suárez; the gordo Barça fans love. Incredibly wasteful, yet irreplaceable.
By: José Pinto/@josepintoj