Luis Suárez had already been made a scapegoat, blamed for all that had gone fallacious at Barcelona. He had already been rejected, advised bluntly by the membership’s new coach, Ronald Koeman, that his providers had been now not required.
He had been compelled to take a seat alongside the president who had precipitated all of it and say thanks for having me, even because the considered being compelled to go brought him to tears. Worse, although, was nonetheless to return, a remaining indignity in his summer season of humiliation.
On Sept. 17, Suárez touched down within the Italian metropolis of Perugia to appreciable fanfare. The airport the place he landed put out an announcement celebrating his arrival. His progress to town’s University for Foreigners was accompanied by a crowd of followers and photographers. Even the college thanked him for gracing its halls.
His keep was to be temporary. Suárez was there to take a seat for an Italian examination. His spouse, Sofía Balbi, is of Italian descent, making her husband eligible for citizenship, offering he might reveal competency within the language.
It was one thing he had been planning for at the very least a yr, he would say later, however on the time his motivation appeared rather more rapid: Juventus was providing Suárez a swift exit from Barcelona, however couldn’t make use of any extra gamers from outdoors the European Union. Suárez’s getting an Italian passport was the important thing to the switch. A couple of minutes after arriving, he left. He had handed the check.
That, although, was solely the start. A number of days later, the Perugia prosecutor’s workplace and the Guardia di Finanza, a part of Italy’s mosaic of legislation enforcement companies, introduced that they had been investigating “irregularities” within the examination. Suárez, they advised, had been knowledgeable of the questions beforehand, and been requested solely to do the oral portion of the check.
The college was accused of agreeing to present him an intermediate grade — sufficient to go — earlier than he had taken the check. Juventus, the prosecutors would later declare, had sought to exert stress “on the highest institutional ranges” to speed up the method. A cellphone name from his Italian tutor to one of many examiners had been intercepted, revealing that she admitted Suárez couldn’t “utter a phrase” of Italian.
Though each the college and Juventus deny any misconduct, and Suárez himself was by no means accused of wrongdoing, the reputational harm was nonetheless substantial.
He has, after all, lengthy been used to being cast — often rightly — as a villain. As his summer season descended by means of tragedy and all the best way on into farce, although, his picture shifted once more: undesirable by Barcelona; accused of dishonest in an examination; and at 34, whereas nonetheless one of the crucial proficient strikers of his era, condemned to play out the coda to his profession as a determine of ridicule.
That is just not fairly how issues have labored out. Suárez didn’t find yourself signing with Juventus. Instead, free of his Barcelona contract, he joined Atlético Madrid. Barcelona’s hierarchy would have most popular to see him depart for Italy or France — Paris St.-Germain was , too — somewhat than for a direct rival. There was some trepidation that the executives may come to remorse the transfer. Even they, although, couldn’t have predicted fairly how a lot.
As he prepares to guide Atlético’s line towards Chelsea within the Champions League on Tuesday night time, Suárez is in “top-of-the-line moments of his profession,” because the Atlético president, Enrique Cerezo, put it.
He has scored 16 objectives in 20 La Liga video games for Diego Simeone’s group. Atlético sits atop the Spanish table, with a three-point lead and a sport in hand on the second-place Real Madrid. Thanks in no small half to Suárez, Atlético is dreaming of its first league title since 2014, and solely its second this century. He has, within the first six months of his Atlético profession, proved one factor past doubt. “Luis Suárez is just not old,” Cerezo stated.
Simeone, definitely, by no means believed that he was. He had admired the Uruguayan for a while — he had hoped to signal Suárez whereas he was nonetheless with Liverpool, calling his performances in England “extraordinary” — and, when it grew to become clear Barcelona was ready to jettison him, Simeone urged Atlético to make its transfer. Cerezo and the membership’s executives didn’t take a lot persuading. “When a participant of his high quality is accessible, it’s a must to attempt,” Cerezo stated.
When coach and participant first spoke by cellphone, Simeone detected “the vitality, the starvation, the defiance” that haven’t solely characterised Suárez, however that additionally had been Simeone’s best attributes as a participant. Most of all, although, Simeone felt that Suárez had one thing to show. “He had a want to show that he’s nonetheless related,” the coach stated.
It is tempting to ascribe Suárez’s kind in Madrid to the re-ignition of that interior hearth. He has at all times, in any case, given the impression that he’s at his greatest when he has one thing or somebody to rage towards, whether or not it’s an opponent, an authority or, on this case, merely the dying of the sunshine. “Some didn’t consider I used to be nonetheless able to enjoying on the high stage,” Suárez stated this week.
And but it’s potential, too, to consider that the other is true: that Suárez has discovered himself once more not in conflict, however in peace.
His former worldwide teammate Sebastián Abreu advised the Spanish newspaper El País this week that he believed Barcelona had, in Suárez’s remaining yr with the membership, “mounted a marketing campaign the place they recognized Luis as the issue with every little thing, along with Lionel Messi.” Suárez, judging by his public feedback, appears to agree with that evaluation.
With Atlético, against this, he has not solely encountered a coach who — as Abreu put it — “is aware of completely the way to deal with a participant,” he has additionally discovered a membership that’s not “blaming Suárez for each scenario, and in order that has liberated him to take pleasure in enjoying soccer fully.” Without battles to combat off the sphere, he has been in a position to dedicate himself as soon as once more to successful them on it.
Just as crucially, he has discovered himself on a group ready to supply him the help he wants to take action. Just as Atlético has revived Suárez, so he has revived Atlético. Simeone had at all times regarded Suárez because the best pure striker on the planet, however he was conscious that he was, in his mid-30s, now not in a position to play on the counterattack fairly so devastatingly as he had, say, with Liverpool in his mid-20s.
In order to revive Suárez to his former grandeur, then, Simeone allotted with the counterpunching strategy that had lengthy characterised his tenure on the membership. In its stead got here a extra possession-oriented, high-pressing fashion, one designed to get extra gamers nearer to Suárez, and the ball to him within the areas the place he might do probably the most harm. “The group is accompanying him, in order that he can turn into the perfect model of himself,” Simeone stated. “And that’s scoring objectives.”
Even for somebody, like Simeone, who by no means doubted Suárez’s capability — who by no means mistook the ticking of a clock for the tolling of a bell — there may be nonetheless the occasional shock.
Late in January, the Atlético coach discovered the striker lingering on the coaching area, training free kicks with a few teammates, Thomas Lemar and João Félix. Simeone, sensing a possibility to set Suárez a problem, remarked that he had not seen him rating from set items all that usually throughout his profession.
A number of days later, Suárez lined one up in a sport towards Cádiz. He was about 30 yards from objective. He whipped the ball into the top corner. Suárez had handed that check, too.