The Uruguayan, who was second in the 2016 top 50, was made to wait for his Barca debut because of his ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini but he has cleaned up his act.
Luis Suarez has not looked back since joining Barcelona. The Uruguay forward won the treble in his debut campaign at the Catalan club and completed a domestic double in his second season, forming a tremendous trident with Lionel Messi and Neymar which saw him bag an incredible 59 goals in all competitions.
However, life at Barca was difficult to begin with after the striker’s €81 million move from Liverpool. That was because, during the World Cup in Brazil, Suarez bit Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini and was subsequently banned by FIFA for four months.
It meant he was forced to sit out the first two months of the season in Spain and could not turn out for Barca’s B team either. When he finally featured in a warm-up match ahead of his competitive debut, a 3-1 Clasico defeat at Real Madrid, he was hit with headlines claiming he was overweight and out of shape.
On top of that, there was intense scrutiny over the striker’s anger issues. Could he keep himself in check? Should Barcelona have signed someone else? It would be just a matter of time, some said, until another incident occurred.
“I was treated worse than a hooligan,” Suarez said of the FIFA ban. “Because banning someone from a football match, a training session, is just incomprehensible.
“Four months without being able to play a competitive game and a two-year international ban is too much. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s almost worse than if I had failed a doping test.”
During his enforced exile, Suarez spent time thinking about his actions and his wife was a huge support. Together since adolescence, Sofia had helped Luis even back then. “She helped me to correct myself, she helped me realise who my friends were,” he said in an interview ahead of the World Cup.
Suarez had travelled often to Barcelona from Uruguay and also as a Groningen player to visit Sofia, who had moved from South America to the Catalan capital with her parents, before the two lived together in the Netherlands and later married in 2009. So, when he arrived at Camp Nou in 2014, it already felt like home. Luis knew Barcelona well, was surrounded by more family than at Liverpool, while he also developed close friendships with Messi, Neymar, Javier Mascherano and Andres Iniesta.
However, again, it was Sofia who was his principal pillar of support – although initially he had lied to his wife after the biting incident. “On the day of the game I phoned him and asked what he had done,” she said. “He responded with ‘What?’ The same had happened in England and I insisted: ‘Again?’ He replied: ‘I haven’t done anything. Are you not happy because Uruguay qualified?’”
After the ban, however, and days of soul-searching, Suarez eventually opened up to Sofia.
“I didn’t ask for immediate forgiveness as I didn’t want to believe what had happened,” he said. “It took a few days because I didn’t want to believe the reality. I was in Uruguay, having gone there after the World Cup, and people were coming up to my door. I appreciated the support but wanted to be supporting my team-mates on the pitch.
“I had given everything for four years to be there and through my own fault, making one mistake, all that was forgotten. How I was treated was a bit cruel. I was treated like a criminal and it hurt.”
However, Barcelona was a new start. He vowed to improve his behaviour for the sake of his family (his wife and two young children) and even though there have been one or two cases of aggression in Spain, there has been nothing as serious as the bites on Chiellini, Otmann Bakkal (during his time at Ajax) and Branislav Ivanovic (while at Liverpool).
In his spell at Anfield, Suarez was also found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra and the Uruguayan came to feel persecuted by the paparazzi in England, while his only close friend in Liverpool was Steven Gerrard.
At Barca, he has the support network he needs, including several other South Americans, and the move was a clean break
. Thanks to Messi, Neymar, Mascherano and Iniesta, the continued help of his family and his own will to steer clear of trouble, it is a much more mature Luis Suarez these days.