#360view: Suarez a different animal at Barca

Andy West 23:25 16/12/2016
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  • Unrecognisable: Luis Suarez

    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.

    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.