Barca’s brilliant Nou guard: Can Luis Suarez now be lauded?
On an enthralling Champions League final evening in Berlin, when Catalan playmaker and icon Xavi Hernandez wore the Barcelona armband on Europe’s biggest stage for the last time, and usual suspects Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi helped make the difference, it was superb summer signings Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez who stole the headlines, netting two of three goals to sink Juventus.
With a transfer ban imposed until January 2016, Barca (10/3 with Coral to retain the Champions League in 2015/16) had to get last summer’s recruitment drive right, and the Nou Camp club were spot on as they snapped-up promising stopper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Rakitic and Suarez, among others.
Guileful Rakitic has taken on the daunting task of conducting midfield for the Catalan kings alongside instrumental Iniesta, in place of Xavi, whose expected omission from the starting XI in Berlin truly signaled a changing of the guard. It paid off too, as the crafty Croatian was on hand to convert Iniesta’s unselfish pass to open the scoring within four minutes of kick-off.
It was perhaps Suarez’s second-half strike, to give Barca back the lead after Alvaro Morata hit an equaliser, that was most poignant in regards to the future, however.
All season pundits have been suggesting that the Nou Camp club’s apparent over-reliance on football phenomenon Lionel Messi was coming to an end, with a three-pronged attack featuring the Argentine genius, Brazil whizz Neymar and Suarez taking La Liga by storm.
Rightly highlighted has been the trio’s team work and exhilarating link-up play, along with claims Barcelona are now no longer solely the Messi show. However, as the 27-year-old has notched 58 of the terrific triumvate’s 122 goals between them across all competitions, with his sensational strikes against Athletic Bilbao bagging Barca a Copa del Rey, those suggestions may seem a little hasty.
Against Juventus, however, Messi helped run the show behind the scenes, a little more quietly than usual, allowing Rakitic, Suarez and Neymar their moment in the sun.
Of all the recent additions it is surely Suarez’s that has brought about this subtle move away from dependency on the superstar, and also a switch to a more direct style of play. The Uruguay international has shown not only that he can step up when his prolific peer has an off-day, but that he can be the main man regardless of who else is on the pitch.
There were doubts after La Celeste’s talisman joined from Liverpool following yet another summer of controversy surrounding his discipline, amid much speculation over whether the striker could thrive next to Messi or be just another to fall aside in his shadow.
Suarez, whose rusty El Clasico debut was underwhelming, has shown the strength of character to silence doubters, however, and the next time a clash with Real Madrid rolled around, it was he who netted the winner.
Suarez also struck in seven of his 10 Champions League outings this season, proving crucial with braces against Manchester City and PSG, as well as cultured peformances to provide assists over two legs against Bayern Munich. It is this balance, between stealing the limelight and sharing it, that has seen him slot into the Nou Camp seamlessly.
An impressive 25 goals and 24 assists illustrate he has lost none of his Liverpool and Ajax explosiveness in sacrificing for the greater good, and Barca’s travelling fans duly rewarded the goal hero with applause and adoration after another tireless performance in the Champions League final. Yet will the rest of the football world now embrace the controversial attacker? And can he claim to have hit the heights of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?
See Suarez’s strike against Juventus:
Suarez surely still has some way to go before stealing the Ballon d’Or crown from those two once-in-a-generation talents, but is certainly the closest contender. Challengers Sergio Aguero, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, Carlos Tevez and even Neymar, are arguably behind the Uruguayan when it comes to standing up to be counted in crucial moments, at least in this campaign.
Now that much-maligned Suarez has proven his credentials on the biggest stage in club football he must keep his consistent brilliance up as Messi and Ronaldo are always raising the bar. Having finally landed some significant silverware, with an Eredivisie medal his only previous capture of note, it seems only reputation can hold him back.
Suarez will have a summer to reflect as he continues to sit out an international ban, as Uruguay contest the Copa America without their all-time top scorer. Should he want to one day be counted among the greats, the striker still has work to do.