There are two ways of judging sporting achievements. The first is by using straight statistics: how many, how far, how much.
In a branch of endeavour where tenths of seconds or a few millimetres can make all the difference, employing pure numbers is certainly a valid way of measuring greatness.
The other criterion for success, however, is far more difficult to pin down: qualities such as attitude, team spirit, courage and sheer hard work, without which none of the statistical achievements would be possible.
Which ever way you look at it, whether you prefer to judge by numbers or by the great intangibles, it is clear Luis Suarez has been extraordinarily successful with Barcelona. Firstly, let’s allow the statistics to speak for themselves.
Suarez’s hat-trick, which clinched the Spanish title at Granada yesterday, took his total to 14 goals in the last five games. Not a bad way to finish a campaign when the title is on the line.
It also took his season tally in the league to 40, the sixth highest in La Liga history (only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have ever scored more) and enough for the ‘Pichichi’ award for the competition’s highest goalscorer. With his cup goals added in – including eight in the Champions League – Suarez has netted no less than 59 goals this season, representing a 20 per cent improvement on his previous best (49 with Ajax in 2009/10).
As much as his numbers, though, Suarez has done so much to imp-rove his team through the intangible contribution that he makes, with his tenacity, determination and will to win driving the players around him to a higher level.
Given past incidents, it has become impossible to use the word ‘hunger’ about Suarez without it appearing to be the set-up for a bad pun. That’s a shame because the metaphorical appetite shown by the Uruguayan frontman has been, without doubt, a major element of Barcelona’s success in the last two seasons.
When he arrived, they had just endured a mundane trophy-less season under Tata Martino, who clearly had no idea how to coax the team out of the Pep Guardiola era without significantly dropping their standards.
Even when the next season started with Luis Enrique at the helm, Barca still initially looked lost and confused, lacking a clear tactical or mental direction.
Suarez missed the early weeks of Enrique’s reign through suspension but once he settled into the team, everything clicked.
A big part of that process was Suarez’s centre forward position, resulting in Lionel Messi being moved to the right wing, where his infield surges, counterbalanced by Neymar’s from the left, rapidly became a trademark of the ‘new’ Barca.
With Suarez’s physicality and relentless determination keeping opposing defences occupied in the middle while Messi and Neymar do the same from the wings, there are simply too many goal threats to handle. And when they gel, as these three South American amigos generally do…well, everyone else might as well go home.
With Messi and Neymar alongside him, Suarez is a fundamental member of perhaps the best forward line in history.
And if you think that’s an exaggeration, consider the most important number of them all: in the last two seasons, they have won six trophies. Now there’s a statistic which cannot be doubted.
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