I first laid eyes on him at South Africa 2010. He was playing for Uruguay. He wasn’t much of a physical presence, given his average height and built, but he had this magical ability to whizz past defenders. Combined with his wondrous touch on the ball and the most immaculate finishing ability I had ever seen, I was a little surprised that I had never heard of him before.
Then again, I wasn’t paying much attention to football in the year 2010. Liverpool wasn’t doing well in the league, having just finished seventh. Benitez had been given the sack and the club appeared to be on a downward spiral. I also happened to be busy with a humanitarian project, one that required me to spend the bulk of the World Cup tournament in Cambodia. Apart from that I was due to graduate from school, and was in desperate need of a good-paying job.
So although Luis Suarez wowed me the first time I saw him, putting in a tremendous shift against the South Koreans, I never really gave him much thought. I saw him again when he put an arm up to deny Ghana a spot in the semis, sacrificing himself so that his country could have a glimmer of hope for progress. In the end Uruguay finished fourth, a worthy achievement by their standards.
But when he signed for Liverpool six months later, I was quietly pleased. Yes there were naysayers who said he and Andy Carroll would never match the quality of the departed Fernando Torres, but I believed they both had much potential. Though things never really worked out for Carroll, I don’t think anybody can say that there has been a better player in England this past season than Suarez.
But like all geniuses who ply their trade in the beautiful game, like all the Cantonas and Zidanes of the modern footballing era, he has his manic episodes. His first instinct is to fight, to survive. He has a ruthlessness about him, absent in most his peers, forged from the cauldron that was his tough childhood. He remembers there was always never much to eat (cue jokes about bite on Ivanovic), Mum struggling to make ends meet to feed her seven boys, left to fend for themselves when Dad had had enough.
For all of his brilliance, he has had far too many brushes with the law. He’s bitten, kicked, racially insulted, dived, stamped, punched, bitten again. The watching world judges, prejudges, and says the game needs to be purified from elements like Suarez. The man is unstable. A loose cannon. A radical. A deviant.
Graeme Souness, who perhaps broke more shins with his studs-up tackles than the rest of Liverpool combined, deplores Suarez’s bite on Bratislav, saying he’s already in the last-chance saloon as a Liverpool player, with his numerous indiscretions. If Suarez doesn’t tow the line as a Liverpool player, he’ll be shipped out, Souness says. The same Suarez who’s top scorer at the Merseyside club by a mile.
Even British Prime Minister David Cameron is weighing in on the drama that unfolded at Anfield, calling Suarez an “appalling” example to children who watch the game. Because obviously our footballers are expected to subscribe to the highest ideals and become shining beacons of light for global youth. That means you Ryan Giggs, filthy adulterer.
Me? I’m just enjoying every minute I get to watch Luis dance on the ball. He brings the game to life in a way few others can, Pool’s six-nil trashing of Newcastle notwithstanding. As he sits out his ten-game ban, he surely will reflect on his future at the club and England, where he is very clearly becoming the anti-hero the media loves to hate.
With the legend-killers of Munich calling, something tells me Suarez will not have to reflect much longer.