With goals in three consecutive league games, the hottest striker in La Liga right now is Luis Suarez.
No, don’t worry, you didn’t miss something. We’re not talking about that Luis Suarez; we’re talking about this Luis Suarez.
Granada smashed their transfer record in October to capture 23 year-old Colombian frontman Luis Suarez in a €15 million deal with English Championship side Watford. And it could prove to be one of the best value deals of the decade, because this is a player with the look of a man heading all the way to the top.
Suarez had joined Watford as a teenager back in the summer of 2017 but never actually played for them, instead being sent out on a series of loans.
The first of those, for the 2017/18 season, was a low key affair in the semi-professional third tier of Spanish football, the Segunda B, with Real Valladolid’s reserve team. He did well enough, scoring 11 goals in 34 league games, to earn a step up to the Segunda the following season, spending the year with Nastic Tarragona. They were a poor team and ended up getting relegated, but the direct and ebullient style of Suarez caught the eye.
He was raw and over-excitable, only scored seven goals in 37 appearances during that season with Nastic due to a frantic lack of composure in front of goal, but his progress was clear and his next loan saw another leap up the ladder as he joined Real Zaragoza, the historically biggest and most ambitious club in the Segunda, for the 2019/20 campaign.
This proved to be a breakout season, as Suarez improved enormously and started to turn his youthful potential into consistent end product, accepting the burdensome responsibility of leading Zaragoza’s promotion charge which, nearly all season, looked certain to prove fruitful.
But disaster struck in the latter weeks of the season as Zaragoza’s defence fell apart, conceding 13 goals in four games to send them out of the automatic promotion places and into the playoffs. Even worse, Watford refused to extend Suarez’s loan to cover the playoffs, fearing that their player who had become a valuable asset would suffer an injury to depreciate the fee he could command in the transfer market.
Zaragoza were toothless in the absence of their talisman striker and lost the playoffs semi-final 1-0 on aggregate to Elche, ending both their dreams of promotion and their hopes of permanently signing a player who had finished the season with 19 league goals, making him the second highest scorer in the Segunda Division behind Girona veteran Cristhian Stuani.
Unwilling to stay in England and play in the Championship with Watford, Suarez was up for sale. Due to the Covid-19 affected market, which demolished the spending power of practically every club in Europe, it took a while to find a buyer willing to meet the demands of Watford.
But after patiently waiting to ensure they would progress through the Europa League qualifying campaign and therefore earn the extra revenue to afford him, Granada finally swooped. And they knew what they were getting, because Suarez’s first club in Europe, as a raw 18 year-old in the 2016/17 season, was none other than Granada. He had spent the year on loan from Colombian club Leones, scoring five goals for the reserve team before being snatched away by Watford, with whom Granada were back then connected by mutual owners.
However, in many ways Suarez now is a very different player from the youngster who started to learn the ropes in Granada four years previously. He has matured enormously as a player and a person, and the Andalusian club were rightly convinced that the time he had spent elsewhere learning his craft before eventually coming back had been more than worthwhile.
Suarez’s return to Granada didn’t happen until early October, just before the transfer window closed, so it understandably took a while for the striker to settle with his new teammates who were already well into their game rhythm while he was coming off the back of a two-month break.
But after the initial transition process, he has now started to adapt superbly to his new surroundings and his latest leap in competitive environment. After breaking his scoring duck for Granada in Europa League meetings with Omonia Nicosia, his first goal in La Liga came at the end of November against Celta Vigo…and it was an absolute beauty.
Running onto a lofted long ball over the top of Celta’s defence, Suarez held off Renato Tapia to advance into the area before lifting a sublimely delicate dink over onrushing keeper Ruben Blanco, showcasing his skillset in a scintillating five-second burst: strength, speed, aggression and finishing.
And yes, it was more than a little reminiscent of the youthful Luis Suarez during his Liverpool days. In fact, it’s remarkably handy how closely the new Suarez mirrors the old Suarez in playing style. You want to know how Luis Suarez the Colombian can damage defenses? Just watch clips of Luis Suarez the Uruguayan a decade ago, and you’ll have a pretty good idea.
His great goal against Celta was swiftly followed by a poacher’s effort in an eventful 3-3 draw with Huesca, followed by the only goal in last weekend’s victory over Elche as he met a near-post cross from Darwin Machis with a smartly-taken low finish inside the near post. With three goals in 455 minutes he is now ranked sixth in La Liga’s list of per-90 goalscorers (excluding penalties) and climbing fast in pursuit of the other Luis Suarez in first place.
Granada, currently sixth in La Liga, now have two big games coming up, with this Sunday’s Andalusian derby against Real Betis followed by a midweek tussle with Real Madrid.
Luis Suarez is sure to take a central role, and don’t be surprised if he continues to make a name for himself.