Luis Suarez: Barcelona’s loss is Atletico Madrid’s gain
- Ejected by Barcelona at the end of last season, the Uruguayan striker has got Atletico to the verge of the La Liga crown, usually a two-horse race between Real Madrid and Barca.
“You did not deserve for them to throw you out like they did, but the truth is that at this stage nothing surprises me anymore,” read Lionel Messi’s Instagram post when his good friend Luis Suarez was unceremoniously shown the door by Barcelona at the start of this season.
After six seasons at Camp Nou during which he became the club’s third all-time top-scorer with 198 goals, Barca’s top brass told Suarez that he was “too old” and could no longer play at the highest level. Atletico Madrid were all too happy to pounce on the opportunity, and Suarez was glad to play ball as well. “When the chance came to join Atletico, I had no doubts,” the 34-year-old said.
Suarez later revealed that he was reduced to tears by the treatment meted out to him in his final weeks at the Catalan club, wherein he was not allowed to be part of even training matches.
Since then, however, the Uruguayan has put his head down and proved his detractors wrong by notching up 20 goals for Atletico in the Spanish league season so far. One of the most important goals of his career came last weekend when he netted in the 88th minute to give Atletico a 2-1 win over Osasuna, which took Atletico to the verge of winning their first La Liga title since 2013-14.
“Suarez has so much experience and who better than him to resolve a game like that when it looked to be slipping away from us,” Atletico manager Diego Simeone said after the victory.
For all their defensive solidity, scoring goals has been a problem for Atletico over the last few seasons. Suarez and Marcos Llorente, who chipped in with 12 goals (the same number as last year’s club top-scorer Alvaro Morata) this season, have fixed the hole for Simeone. Suarez’s tally of 20 goals in this campaign so far has been the most by an Atletico forward in the La Liga since Antoine Griezmann’s 22 strikes in the 2015-16 season.
On the final matchday on Saturday, Atletico have to match the result of crosstown rivals and second-placed Real Madrid—who are two points behind the leaders—to seal the title. While Atletico face 19th-placed Real Valladolid, Real will be up against Europa League finalists Villarreal.
La Liga Ambassadors, former Barcelona stalwart Javier Mascherano and ex-Atletico forward Diego Forlan, concurred that the circumstance in which Suarez exited Barcelona wasn’t right and that Atletico have benefitted.
“If somebody has gained from everything that has happened with Suarez in the pre-season, it has to be Atletico. The way he had to leave Barcelona, had a great impact on who had the opportunity to play with him. Luis is not just what he represents on the pitch but also off the pitch. For those who love Barca, they would have still loved to see him in their colours,” the 36-year-old Mascherano, who spent eight seasons at the club winning five La Liga crowns, two Champions League titles and multiple other trophies, said during an online interaction on Thursday.
Forlan believed the move to sign Suarez took Atletico a step forward while pegging Barcelona back. “As soon as it was clear he wasn’t going to continue at Barcelona, it was a surprise not just to me but for everyone in the football world. They made a mistake and facts are there for all to see. If we look at his performances over the season, Barcelona have suffered for not having a player of his calibre in the squad,” said Forlan who scored 96 goals for Atletico in his four seasons at the club.
Barcelona did suffer in the absence of Suarez this season, for there was no one upfront to link-up with Messi who continued his scoring spree with 30 goals so far in the league. The next best striker for Barcelona has been Griezmann with 12 goals, but the Frenchman’s returns and impact have paled in comparison to his exploits at Atletico.
Suarez was Barca’s second-highest scorer behind Messi across the last four seasons and even topped the charts in 2015-16. “If I hadn't done anything at a club like Barca for three or four seasons, I would have understood. But every year at Barca, I scored more than 20 goals per season. I have always had good statistics, just behind Leo (Messi),” Suarez told France Football after he started his journey with Atletico.
Suarez may not quite possess the same pace now but his mere presence in front of the goal is enough to keep the defenders on their toes. And Atletico flying.