Whilst his exploits at Ajax had made him a recognisable name across Europe, Luis Suarez really announced himself to the world at the World Cup in 2010. Typically for the player, Suarez drew praise for his fine performances in Uruguay’s impressive run to the semi finals, but gained far more attention for a less, shall we say morally sound, piece of play.
Suarez’s handball blocked what would have been the winning goal for a popular Ghana team in the quarter finals, with Asamoah Gyan missing the subsequent penalty, and Uruguay eventually winning through in a shootout. The images of Suarez wildly celebrating the victory shouldn’t have been unexpected, after all he had pretty clearly just demonstrated how much he wanted his side to win, but they left a sour taste in the mouth of most watching.
For many that was the start of a long term dislike of Suarez, who certainly hasn’t helped to rehabilitate himself with his actions since joining Liverpool, but I would say that Suarez’s actions in the World Cup demonstrated the trait in his personality that he has never shied away from – the total desire to win.
It is ugly to see such naked ambition in anyone, but considering football is a competition, it should not be that surprising. There are no doubt plenty of players that match Suarez’s sheer desperation to succeed, but few also match his quality, which is why the Liverpool forward stands out.
Suarez hasn’t ever attempted to change who he is on the pitch, which is disappointing in some respects, as even in his most recent outing against Zenit his two wonderful goals were coloured by a stamp that might still face sanction from UEFA. But there are plenty of players whose aggression is argued away as a necessary part of their game, so it perhaps would be a little disingenuous to single Suarez out as some kind of inhuman monster for his actions.
However the real reason to try and look past that aspect of Suarez’s game is that there is so much to see when you do.
This year the striker has been a phenomenon at Liverpool, almost single handedly dragging the team into contention for a European place in the league during a tricky season where they attempt to adapt to Brendan Rodgers’ philosophy.
Eighteen goals in 26 league games have dismissed the notion that Suarez lacks a clinical edge, but it is his all round play that can really be admired. His close control in tight spaces in matched by no-one else in the league, and there will be very few players in world football who can manufacture a chance out of nothing as regularly as Suarez does. There is genuine excitement whenever he gets on the ball, and he gives absolute commitment to whatever side he represents, commitment that can stray into the unsavoury areas at times.
As a result of this his rap sheet has reached almost cartoon villain levels. He has used racist language towards a player, bitten another, stamped on several more and denied the most likable team at a World Cup their chance in a semi final through nefarious means. He shown little or no remorse for most of these actions, and there’s every chance he will commit similar offenses throughout the rest of his career.
As such, if you wanted, you could find justification to dislike Suarez more every time you watched him play, but why trouble yourself, especially when the other thing you could is watch one of the most outrageously talented players around produce moments of magic far more regularly than he appalls.