EXCLUSIVE: Luis Suarez adapting to the Barca way of life

Andy West 24/12/2014
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New colours: Luis Suarez is yet to show his striking power for Barcelona in La Liga.

When Luis Suarez made a controversial switch from Liverpool to Barcelona this summer, he was supposed to become the free-scoring traditional ‘number nine’ the Catalan club have been missing since Samuel Eto’o was in his prime.

So far, that expectation has not been fulfilled and Suarez, after eight league app-earances, finally notched his first La Liga goal in the 5-0 win against Cordoba last weekend. In his defence, the firebrand Uruguayan had found the target on two occasions in the Champions League, and he has also got into scoring positions with sufficient frequency to suggest a flood of goals could be just around the corner. Suarez’s partnership with fellow South American stars Neymar and Lionel Messi remains a hugely tantalising prospect.

Until now, however, Barca’s attacks have largely relied on moments of individual brilliance rather than slick team play.

Here, Suarez tells Sport360° why he is so happy to be at Barcelona and why he believes he can be successful at his dream club.

Can you describe how Barcelona is a different club to represent than other major clubs like Liverpool and Ajax?

There is this real expectation of success at Barcelona. Not just that it will be a good season if we win La Liga or if we win the Champions League, but the expectation to compete in every competition. That is why I came here though, I want to win many trophies like so many of my teammates here have. 

What has surprised you about being at Barcelona – are there things about the club or Spain you didn’t expect?
I already knew Barcelona as a city very well. It has been my dream to play here, but also it is where a lot of my wife’s family live, so it was very important for us and the children. The move was the right decision for so many reasons. 

How are you adjusting your own playing style to fit into the Barca team?
Barcelona has a very specific way of playing, they believe there is a way the game should be played, and of course that is very attractive for the fans. At Liverpool there was the pressure on me to get the goals, but here with Messi and Neymar I do not have that same pressure of goals on me. It is allowing me to become more of a team player, and I hope that already people are seeing that. 

Do you think it’s important for a team to have a fixed playing system or is it more important to be tactically flexible?
You have to have the intelligence to adapt sometimes, but what I really respect about the club is they will not change their philosophy of playing. The players are taught that from the youth system we have here, and it is such a big part of the club’s recent success. 

How would you describe your relationship with Lionel Messi, both on and off the pitch?
I have a really great relationship with Messi. On the field of course he is a dream to play with, but we are both Latin American so we have a lot of stuff in common as well. Just really simple things like we both like to eat the same food, but it's a good connection. 

Have you spoken much with Messi and Neymar about how the three of you can play together effectively?
The more we train together, the more we play together, the better our relationship will get. Our positions are not fixed, there is the freedom to roam and change positions throughout the game, and the more natural that becomes the harder it will be for teams to set up and defend against us. 

Do other major players at the club – people like you and Neymar – find it difficult that so much attention is always paid to Messi? Is there a danger of him being bigger than the club?
Not at all, anybody who has played with Messi will tell you that the only interest he has is Barcelona doing well and winning. We are looking at what is probably the greatest player ever, but at the same time he stays such a humble guy. 

Everyone always talks about Barca and Real Madrid, but Atletico Madrid are the champions: what do you think of their team and their chances of retaining the title?
We have to respect them. They are the champions and they just qualified out of their Champions League group as well. They sold Diego Costa in the summer, but also they signed some very good players as well. We have to consider them rivals because that is what they are. 

How would you compare the Premier League and La Liga?
They are both played at a fast pace, but I think you get more protection in Spain. In England the top players were targeted, and sometimes the referees would deal with it, but other times they wouldn’t. In Spain the protection the players get from officials is more consistent. 

Have you been following Liverpool this season and are you surprised to see them struggling?
I will always follow Liverpool; they will always be in my heart. It has not been the best start of the season for them, but there is still a long way to go. The most important thing for the club is that whichever way they do it they qualify for the Champions League. The fans expect it, and it is where that club belong.

What is your assessment of Brendan Rodgers and do you think he will be a long-term success with Liverpool?
All I can do is speak from experience. Brendan is very well liked by all the players, he has their respect, and he shows full support to anybody who is at his club. I am sure that Liverpool will be very successful under him, for me he is the only man for the job. 

You said in the summer that you would get help from professionals to make sure you don’t have disciplinary problems in the future. How is that process going and is it still continuing?
I don’t want to talk about the past now, I am moving forward. All I will say is that I dealt with all the problems and issues that I had, and have made assurances to the right people it will not happen again. 

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Ronaldinho threatened with sack at Mexican club

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Astounding but absent: Ronaldinho has been threatened to be kicked out of his current club in Mexico.

Two-time world footballer of the year Ronaldinho has been threatened with the sack if he doesn't return as soon as possible to his Mexican club Queretaro, the team's president has said.

The 34-year-old Brazilian – a member of the 2002 World Cup winning side and world player of the year in 2004 and 2005 – has not returned as he said he would a fortnight ago for pre-season training having been allowed to go to the United States and Brazil to put his personal affairs in order after the end of the previous campaign.

The first match is on January 11 but Queretaro began their pre-season training on December 8 and have played several friendlies without being graced by the presence of the former Paris Saint Germain, Barcelona and AC Milan star.

Club president Arturo Villanueva – who was credited with pulling off a coup for the unfashionable Mexican side by persuading the Brazilian to sign for them in September – said that if Ronaldinho does not appear in the next week he would prefer 'to take on someone else'.

Joaquin Beltran. the club's sporting director, said that Ronaldinho – who in his nine games for Queretaro scored three goals and set up one other – did not enjoy special status.

"If Ronaldinho does not come back in the next week, we will take a decision," said Beltran.

"He has already missed a large part of the pre-season and nobody is above the institution."

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s not golden, says Xavi

Simon Foster 24/12/2014
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Striking out: Barcelona's Xavi (r) was third in the Ballon d’Or voting three times.

Barcelona midfielder Xavi has questioned whether Cristiano Ron­aldo deserves to win the Ballon d’Or and wouldn’t even place the Portu­guese in his top three.

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Ronaldo is expected to claim his third Ballon d’Or next month after a calendar year in which he scored 61 goals in 60 games for club and country and lifted the Champions League with Real Madrid having ended the competition as its top goalscorer.

However, the one blot on the for­ward’s copybook is his disappoint­ing tournament in Brazil in which Portugal crashed out at the group stage with Ronaldo struggling in South America with a knee injury.

The other two names on the shortlist, Lionel Messi and Manuel Neuer, both enjoyed fine World Cups with the latter triumphing in the final and being named best goalkeeper while the Argentine for­ward scored four goals in winning the Golden Ball.

In an interview with Spanish daily Sport, Xavi said: “He didn’t do much in the World Cup, and in a World Cup year, the season is defined by that. I would have Leo, second Philipp Lahm, and third Javier Mascherano.”

The future of Messi at Barcelona has also generated a considerable amount of intrigue with the for­ward said to be unsettled.

However, Xavi added: “He is hap­pier than ever. He’s the best player in the world and we have to live with this kind of news. But I see him happy and content.”

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