As Luis Suarez signs a new five-year contract at Barcelona which could see him finish his career at the Nou Camp, it is only right that we should acknowledge just how much the Uruguayan has achieved since he moved to Spain.
Back in the summer of 2014, when the transfer was agreed between Liverpool and Barca, Suarez was badly-damaged goods.
A series of controversial and deeply unsavoury on-pitch incidents raging from a deliberate handball, to diving and then racism, had scarred his reputation, culminating in his grotesque bite – the third such instance of his career – on Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini during the 2014 World Cup clash in Natal.
That horrible episode landed Suarez a lengthy ban, meaning he wasn’t available to make his Barca debut until more than two months into the season, and many of the Catalan club’s fans took the highly unusual step of protesting against the signing on moral grounds.
By repeatedly transgressing the acceptable norms of behaviour on the field of play, they claimed, Suarez had proven himself to be unworthy of wearing the famous Blaugrana shirt, while others argued he had shown sufficient contrition to earn another chance.
Two-and-a-half years later, subscribers to the latter point of view will feel fully vindicated, because Suarez’s conduct ever since he first arrived in Spain has been little short of exemplary. Of course, he has collected yellow cards due to his hard-chasing, ultra-competitive style of play, picking up a reasonable total of 16 cautions in 73 league games.
But he has not been sent off, the yellow cards waved in his direction have been for ‘honest’, run-of-the-mill offences, and there has been no sign of the serious behavioural lapses which so badly blighted his time in the Premier League.
Perhaps the biggest compliment you could pay to Suarez’s conduct is by pointing out that not once, even, has he become a major target for the wrath of opposition supporters – something he endured on an almost-weekly basis in England.
It helps, of course, that there are other targets – Neymar’s self conscious flamboyance, Gerard Pique’s controversial politics and Lionel Messi’s, well, unique Messi-ness mean that Suarez has other people around him to provoke negative reactions from fans and media.
Luis Suarez stats with Barcelona. pic.twitter.com/ADTijL1GWf— FC Barcelona TV (@FC_BarcelonaTv) December 16, 2016
And it doesn’t feel entirely right to congratulate a professional footballer for not being racist or biting one of his opponents – we should take that for granted.
But the truth is that Suarez was widely vilified at the time of his arrival in Barcelona, with many fans and pundits believing he was irrevocably a lost cause who would never reform.
And as we’re never slow to jump on the bandwagon of criticising a player, or any other public figure, when they behave badly, it’s only right we should genuinely acknowledge their achievements in mending their ways when they succeed in doing so.
Naturally, it helps that Suarez has been brilliant for Barca, providing the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of an attack that had previously lacked a central focal point.
His tally of 97 goals in 116 games, including last season’s Golden Boot and a decisive strike in the 2015 Champions League final, speak loud and clear for themselves and show that for Luis Suarez the footballer, the last two-and-a-half years have been a major triumph.
But for Luis Suarez the person, they have been even better.
The story of young Afghan Murtaza Ahmadi – the boy who wore his very own handmade Argentina Number 10 jersey with Messi on the back rightly went viral online.
But who would have thought he’d get the chance to meet his hero?
Luckily, Barcelona made that a reality ahead of their friendly clash with Al-Ahli in Qatar.
Ahmadi was invited to meet Messi before the teams kicked off and he walked out with the Barca legend as mascot for the game.
As you can see from the video above, Ahmadi was simply having the time of his life and didn’t want to leave Messi and his team-mates.
Simply, one of the great footballing stories.
Spanish giants Barcelona face Saudi Arabian heavyweights Al Ahli in the Qatari capital of Doha on Tuesday in a friendly game organised by their shared sponsor Qatar Airways.
It will be the seventh time the Catalans have played against an Arab club, with six friendlies and just one competitive meeting in the FIFA Club World Cup.
BARCELONA 6-1 AL AHLY (1961)
Barcelona’s first match against Arab opposition was won by six goals to one. The comprehensive victory over Al Ahly was achieved back in 1961, the year in which Barca beat Real Madrid in the European Cup before losing to Benfica in the final.
BARCELONA 3-0 WYDAD ATHLETIC CLUB (1974)
The Catalans’ second meeting with an Arab opponent was a clash against Moroccan side Wydad Athletic Club (WAC). Though not as convincing as their first outing, Barca still recorded a comfortable 3-0 victory over the Casablanca outfit.
BARCELONA 4-0 AL AHLY (2007)
Another visit to Cairo brought another easy win as Barca smashed four goals past Ahly without return, meaning it was a somewhat unhappy centenary celebration for the Egyptians. Javier Saviola opened the scoring from a corner before a young Bojan Krkic scored his first ever goal for Barcelona. The Stoke forward had ‘Cairo’ inscribed on his boots to commemorate the occasion. Samuel Eto’o added both the third and fourth goals for Barca.
BARCELONA 1-1 KAZMA (2009)
Bojan was at it again as he opened the scoring for Barcelona on their first ever visit to Kuwait with a delightful chip. But hosts Kazma pegged back the Catalans in the second-half to earn a very creditable 1-1 draw. They remain the only Arab side not to have lost against Barca.
BARCELONA 4-1 AL AHLY (2009)
Wembley Stadium was the location for Barca’s third meeting with the Egyptians as both sides took part in the pre-season Wembley Cup alongside Tottenham and Celtic, the latter of whom going on to win the tournament. Bojan AGAIN scored, opening proceedings for Barca with a smart finish before Hanny el Egizy equalised. An unbelievable long-range strike from Jonathan Soriano restored the lead and goals from Jeffren and Pedro secured the win.
BARCELONA 4-0 AL SADD (2011)
The 2011 Club World Cup brought Barca’s only competitive meeting against an Arab club and with it, another impressive victory as the Asian Champions League winners were decimated in Japan. It was also notable as David Villa’s final game for Barcelona, a double leg fracture ending his career with the Catalans prematurely. Mohamed Saqr had a night to forget as he conceded sloppy goals to Adriano (2) and Maxwell, as well as Seidou Keita.
BARCELONA 8-0 RAJA CASABLANCA (2012)
A second game against Moroccan opposition brought Barca’s biggest win against an Arab club in a pre-season friendly in 2012. The Catalans blew Raja Casablanca away, going 5-0 up at half-time thanks to two from Alexis Sanchez and a hat-trick from captain for the day Lionel Messi. Dani Alves scored a penalty in the second-half, with Sergio Gomez and Gerard Deulofeu putting the icing on the cake.