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Luis Suárez: The legacy of a Barcelona legend

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Suárez will be remembered for different reasons.

Soccer - Paris St. Germain PSG vs. Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals Photo by liewig christian/Corbis via Getty Images

Luis Suárez has something left in the tank, but it’s not what it used to be. And it’s not what Barcelona wanted. But there is still something there, enough to make a title contender sign him.

Barcelona were keen to move his massive salary on, as he’s simply not worth that much money anymore. But at the same time, Atlético Madrid were ready to pounce. We are talking about one of the top clubs in the world here. And before that, Juventus seemed very interested until negotiations ultimately broke down. Again, one of the richest, most prestigious clubs in the world, and a current league champion.

Suárez’s production on the pitch at Barcelona, and before that, at Liverpool was unmatched. Unmatched, that is, except for the times the two giants of football matched or exceeded it. Of course, we are speaking of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Suárez’s goal and assist stats were easily the third-highest of any player in La Liga who is not either of those two. He’s the only one to win the Pichichi award in the Messi-Ronaldo era who was not either one of them. At Liverpool, he equalled Ronaldo for a European Golden Shoe award - without taking penalties.

Between 2010 and 2019, only Suárez (two times), Messi (six), and Ronaldo (three) won the Golden Shoe. That decade will rightly be remembered as the decade Messi and Ronaldo were both in their primes. But it should also be remembered as the decade Suárez reached his peak and often competed right alongside them in goalscoring exploits.

He’s Barcelona’s third-best scorer of all time, despite the fact that he spent only six seasons at the Camp Nou. He’s a four time La Liga and Copa del Rey winner, he won the UEFA Champions League (and the treble) as well. He won Copa América and helped Uruguay to a top four finish in the FIFA World Cup. At Liverpool, he had one of the greatest individual seasons in Premier League history and led an underdog team to within arms’ reach of the trophy.

He scored wonder goal after wonder goal - a slightly absurd amount for one player, actually.

We could go on and on about his qualities. They are so many, and perhaps they are underrated because he lived in the shadow of Messi and to a lesser extent Ronaldo.

Then there are the frustrations Barcelona fans had over the past few seasons. The striker still produced, even though he often lost the ball and sometimes failed to add much besides goals or perhaps assists. His lack of defensive contribution was a stark difference to the Suárez of the past, who was known for harassing opposing defenders into mistakes and working off the ball.

In the UEFA Champions League, Suárez started extremely strongly, winning it the first time he competed in it for Barcelona. But his record recently showed a concerning lack of away goals. Still, his defenders point to him tending to score important goals at home as well.

In any case, it would be quite a shame if anyone remembered his lesser years rather than his highs at the Camp Nou. He was, on his day, a monster. To this day it’s hard to think a front three as talented as him, Messi, and Neymar. It’s a shame they broke up so quickly.

After a very long injury layoff this year, he actually recovered quite a bit ahead of schedule. But he was clearly not the same as before, which was already a player in decline to begin with. With Messi also given the privilege to not defend much, Barcelona often played with 9 without the ball. For Messi, this was acceptable. For Suárez, not as much. That may have played a role in Barcelona’s choice to let him go, as well. Perhaps they felt that a player of his age, after a big injury, doesn’t have much left after this year.

Perhaps Suárez is better suited for Atlético Madrid now. And perhaps they’ll repeat something that happened before. David Villa signed from Barcelona to Atlético for a relatively low fee in 2013. He helped them to their first league title since 1996. It could happen.

From Barcelona’s perspective, it was all about moving on. Despite his his legendary stature at the club, they wanted to find a way to switch to a different way of playing. They needed to shed at least part of his massive contract. And perhaps they knew this was the time to make the switch.

It still, somehow, feels weird to think Suárez is an Atlético Madrid player.