Tracking down and signing up a striker should be a fairly easy business for a football club. It’s a process consisting of a tick-list with two boxes. Will candidate A score a ton of goals for us? Is candidate A likely to be found on the floor of a bar at 3am for most nights of the week? Tottenham Hotspur, for one, clearly didn’t use that for Giovani dos Santos.
Barcelona’s checklist runs into multiple pages and the actual use of a clipboard. Of course the previous two requirements are present but clustered away among a host of other boxes. What will happen if the candidate gets to a drinks machine the same time as Leo Messi? Will he let him go first? Is he likely to try and spark up conversations with Messi at the photocopier? Will he be able to play alongside Messi yet not get in his way? Will he also score enough goals to support Messi but not steal them off his boot? And so on, and so on. Being able to tolerate the various antics of Gerard Piqué and Dani Alves is another must.
Finding a Barcelona forward is more like a Hollywood casting couch, although not quite how it was back in the day. Some of the best forwards in the world have not quite clicked with Messi both on and off the field - Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Villa - despite being striking beasts of the game, and have been moved on.
The role has been made even more complicated with Neymar now rattling around the Camp Nou. Similar requirements are also needed as those relating to Messi, as well as being able to put in a defensive shift to cover for the Brazilian’s occasional tracking back lapses. Despite all this tactical kerfuffle, Barcelona have struck absolute gold in Luis Suárez, a player completing a year of official playing time with the Catalan club having spent his first few months on the sidelines due to suspension.
The contribution of the Uruguayan forward was invaluable in dragging a team in the doldrums last January to one that eventually won the Treble. And the contribution of the Uruguayan forward was once again invaluable in carrying a team through a tough start to the new season with Messi sidelined for two months, combined with a squad weakened by a succession of injuries and a transfer ban.
What can be best described as a series of indiscretions from Suárez over the years at Liverpool and Ajax - even before the World Cup biting incident with Italy's Giorgio Chiellini - had some Barca fans of a more prudish bent turning their nose up at the player. The transfer fee of £65 million also hit Barcelona’s accounts hard, registering a significant increase in the side’s debt.
But the club and supporters are quite united in the fact that Barcelona have a near perfect player on their hands. Suárez has been able to make himself, Neymar and Messi not just a combination of the best forwards of the world but a symbiotic, psychically-linked, almost unplayable scoring machine.
His mind talk his feet
The 28-year-old striker is selfless on the pitch, but not to the extent that he overly defers to his playing partners. A footballing brain of almost super-computer speed is able to instantly calculate whether the best percentage of scoring a goal lies with either himself or a team-mate. The chances of that being the former are heightened by the fact that Suárez is equally adept with both feet, his head and has near flawless technique.
As one former England No.1 told FourFourTwo, Suárez has the near psychic ability to know where the goalkeeper is at all times, meaning the footballer has an immediate advantage in the box. While Messi beats the keeper through incredible technique - you know what he is going to do, but can’t stop him anyway - Suárez knows where the goalkeeper has been, will go to, what he had for breakfast and what he is planning for his next Netflix binge.
When a manager behaves like a fan in celebrating a goal with giddy joy and abandon, something rather special is clearly taking place. When a stern character like Luis Enrique is applauding, completely gobsmacked as during the four-day destruction of both Real Madrid and Roma in November, a footballing miracle is taking place. Luis Suárez was already one of the best forwards in the world. But in tandem with Neymar and Messi, the striker has become an instrumental part of the best attacking line-up of all time.
PERFORMANCE Finish like Luis Suarez
- 100-91 • 90-81 • 80-71 • 70-61 • 60-51 • 50-41 • 40-31 • 30-21 • 20-11 • 10 • 9 • 8 • 7 • 6 • 5 • 4 • 3 • 2 • 1
#FFT100 The Best 100 Football Players in the World: list and features here
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