Paul Wilkes reports on old enemies joined by an unlikely bond...
When Luis Suarez left the Premier League for Spain last summer, he certainly wouldn't have expected to bump into his nemesis David Moyes. But the former Manchester United manager will welcome Barcelona this Sunday. The relationship between the two personalities is complex, but is perhaps best illustrated by their comparable will to win.
The Uruguayan's deliberate last-minute goal-line handball in the 2010 World Cup quarter-final against Ghana left many pundits and journalists perplexed by the injustice of the act – even though Suarez was punished within the laws of the game with a red card and a one-match ban, with Asamoah Gyan missing the resultant penalty and Uruguay subsequently triumphing via a shootout.
It always motivates me when a manager criticises me or speaks out of turn"
Asked as the then-Everton manager if he would expect his players to do the same as Suarez, Moyes had no such moral concern. "Yes," he replied simply at a press conference in Sydney. "If there's a chance [of staying in the game] by handballing it – he knows he's going to get sent off, but there is a second chance."
Diving into trouble
Back on Merseyside, his support for Suarez didn't last long. In the October 2011 city derby, Jack Rodwell was sent off for a tackle on Suarez; in the run-up to the October 2012 rematch at Goodison, Moyes called it "a dive and a really poor decision by the referee. It ruined the game."
Asked if he feared a repeat incident, he replied: "I do because I think he [Suarez] has got history. But I'm not the referee. What it will do is turn the supporters away from football because they [players who dive] are very good at it."
There's no doubting the South American has been known to make the most of a challenge, although the tackle by Rodwell was a strange one to label a dive. Although the red card was rescinded by the FA, on that occasion Suarez appeared to be trying to avoid contact through self-preservation.
The comments backfired on Moyes as a Suarez shot was deflected into the net by Leighton Baines. The Uruguayan promptly dived in front of the Glaswegian, instantly becoming one of the most notable celebrations in Merseyside derby history.
"I thought [the celebration] was great," said Moyes after the match. "I actually quite liked that. It’s the sort of thing I might have done if we’d scored at the end." However, he didn't look particularly pleased at the time and his daughter Lauren tweeted: "Very surprised my dad didn’t just nut Suarez."
In his new autobiography Crossing The Line, Suarez said: "He had motivated me. It always motivates me when a manager criticises me or speaks out of turn. I thought: 'How can you say that about a player who is trying to win, just like you are, and before the game has even started?"
Moyes' embarrassment was made worse by his captain Phil Neville receiving a yellow card in the same match for simulation. "It was a stupid thing to do," admitted Neville. Moyes agreed: "I said to him it is completely wrong, you don’t do that and hopefully he won’t do that again."
Suarez would continue to cause Moyes problems, scoring on four of the six occasions he faced the Scotsman's teams. Even when Moyes moved to Manchester United the Uruguayan popped up with Liverpool's third goal in the 84th minute of a humiliating Old Trafford defeat that did as much as anything to hasten the Scotsman's exit.
Since arriving at the Anoeta, Moyes has won only one of his five league matches and the team has struggled to maintain intensity throughout a whole 90 minutes. In fairness to the Scot, the club has disappointed throughout the campaign, although before he arrived they had shown their appetite for the big games by beating Atletico and Real Madrid.
A positive result against Barcelona would be a huge boost for Moyes, although no supporter will judge him on the strength of the display. The focus will be on more winnable fixtures, as Granada, Rayo Vallecano and Eibar await La Real before a trip to the Bernabeu at the start of February.
Suarez v Moyes
- 01.10.11 EFC 0-2 LFC (Lge, 1g)
- 13.03.12 LFC 3-0 EFC (Lge)
- 14.04.12 LFC 2-1 EFC (FA Cup, 1g)
- 28.10.12 EFC 2-2 LFC (Lge, 1g)
- 25.09.13 MUFC 1-0 LFC (Lge)
- 16.03.14 MUFC 0-3 LFC (Lge, 1g)
- TOTAL: Moyes 1 win, Suarez 4 wins (3 goals)
Real Sociedad have had striker problems, with Imanol Agirretxe out injured since the end of November. The team has had to rely on Carlos Vela for goals, but he's best suited to playing a supporting role. Icelandic forward Alfred Finnbogason has failed to convince, even if he did score twice against Real Oviedo in the Copa del Rey. Moyes has tried handing a debut to 20-year-old Iker Hernandez.
Suarez's four-month ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini means that he's only just finding his rhythm at the Camp Nou. He scored his first league goal just before the winter break in the win over 19th-placed Cordoba. Barcelona as a team are struggling to create balance, but that may benefit Suarez with more emphasis on the attacking trio.
"I’m not scoring much at the moment, but I’m sure that with help from my colleagues, the goals will come," admits Suarez. It's his team-mates that are profiting from his work rate, as he has six assists across La Liga and the Champions League.
On Moyes' part there appears to be a grudging respect of the forward who's willing to do absolutely anything to come out on top. He may be a little more diligent with his words before this fixture, but Suarez will still feel the me-against-them motivation that inspires him.
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