The 8-2 humbling at the hands of the reigning European champions Bayern Munich in the quarterfinal of this year’s UEFA Champions League signalled the end of the road for a multitude of Barcelona’s long-serving players.
‘Out with the old and in with the new’ was the overarching call of the Blaugrana faithful, who have finally had enough of an ageing squad built by the maligned president of the club, Josep Bartomeu, who continues to defy the demands of his resignation.
While the story in Catalunya has, unsurprising, been the bombshell request of Lionel Messi to leave the club, another player who will most certainly be leaving Barcelona is Luis Suarez. Signed while he was serving a ban for a fee north of 80 million euros, the Uruguayan has spent the entirety of his Barcelona career in the shadow of Messi.
However, his service to the club has been immense and while his on-field antics have always defined his legacy, it is hard to deny his unquestionable work ethic and the world-class talent that he possesses, that has seen him scale all the heights that club football has to offer.
A Barcelona legend
Suarez was signed from Liverpool to help Barcelona create a trio as potent and as dangerous as Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. And the Uruguayan did not disappoint.
On his debut for Barcelona in the Classico, Suarez provided an assist for Barcelona’s only goal of the night in their 3-1 defeat. Initially, he played from the right to accommodate Messi in the centre, and while he provided plenty of assists, five in his first seven games for the club, it would take him till the end of November against APOEL Nicosia to open his account for the club.
His then coach Luis Enrique decided to play Suarez through the center and Messi on the right flank, which his when the famed Messi, Suarez, Neymar trio took flight. And they were unstoppable, to say the least.
Together, the trio combined to score 122 goals, leading Barcelona to a treble, their second in seven years. Suarez finished the season with 25 goals and 23 assists, complimenting Messi and Neymar perfectly.
He scored the second goal in the Champions League final against Juventus that sealed Barcelona’s victory before Neymar added a third with the last kick of the match, vindicating the club’s decision to sign him despite his three-month ban for biting Georgio Chiellini at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
In his second season at the club, Suarez did the unthinkable. He became only the third man to score 40 goals in a La Liga campaign after Messi and Ronaldo and piped the two to the European Golden shoe, ending their six-year duopoly on the award.
He finished the season with an incredible 59 goals in 53 appearances along with 24 assists, as Barcelona won the League and cup double for the second year running.
The following year, what would be MSN’s last together, Suarez was yet again magnificent, scoring 37 and assisting a further 18 in 51 appearances, in what was a rather disappointing season for Barcelona as they only won the Copa Del Rey while Real Madrid won La Liga as well as became the first team to defend the UEFA Champions League.
Neymar’s departure did not hurt Suarez’s production. He scored 30+ goals for the third year running as Barcelona reclaimed the La Liga throne and won the Copa Del Rey, but had to see Real Madrid win the UEFA Champions League for the third season running.
2018-19 was the season where Suarez finally started showing signs of decline. The Uruguayan led La Liga in big chances missed and just didn’t look his sharp self on the field. His turns did not come off, his finishing let him down and he had visibly lost a yard of space. He did score 25 goals and provided 13 assists, but cut a largely frustrated figure while also being heavily criticised by the Blaugrana faithful.
Barcelona did win the La Liga title, but lost in the final of the Copa Del Rey and capitulated in incredible fashion in the Champions League against Liverpool, blowing a 3-0 lead against an under-strength opposition away from home for the second year running. The writing was on the wall for Suarez and the season that would follow would mark the end of his time in Catalunya.
In what was his worst season for Barcelona, Suarez scored just 21 times for the club in 37 appearances. However, the Uruguayan was a shadow of his past self. He yet again missed chances galore, he looked slower than he did the year before and his three-month layoff made him look even worse for wear on the field.
Despite all that, in what would be his farewell performance for Barcelona, Suarez scored a sumptuous goal, turning Jerome Boateng with a brilliant turn before smashing the ball past Manuel Neuer in the Bayern Munich goal to make it 2-4. He worked his socks off, but rarely had any service to latch onto. It was a performance befitting the Suarez of old, but on a day when his team was being humbled to no end.
While observers agreed that Suarez was Barcelona’s best player on a gloomy evening in Lisbon, the fact remains that Suarez completed just 16 passes on the night, nine of which came from the kickoff.
As the dust settles and Barcelona look to embark on a new era, Suarez is likely to be on his way out of the club. With 198 goals and 109 assists in 283 games for Barcelona, Suarez has repaid every last penny of his transfer fee. Barcelona’s third all-time leading goalscorer will not get the opportunity to reach 200 goals or even call it a day at the club, but his time in Catalunya was nothing short of sensational and should be remembered like that.
A perfect sidekick for Lionel Messi, a great difference-maker on his day and the man who scored the goal that made the treble dream possible. Luis Suarez will, unquestionably, leave Barcelona as a legend.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Jose Jordan