COMMENT: The Uruguay forward is inching closer to signing for the Catalan club from Liverpool this summer, but what role will he fill at Camp Nou?
Barcelona’s striker search is nothing new. Both Tito Vilanova and Tata Martino were keen to bring in a centre-forward to share the load over the last two seasons. The Catalan club, it was often said, needed a Plan B. But that Plan B has now become Plan A – and its name is Luis Alberto Suarez.
Previously, Barca had set their sights on a ‘new Henrik Larsson’ – a veteran striker who could emerge from the bench and change games, content to wait for his chances on the sidelines. But such players don’t come along every year and the Blaugrana never really found another one. And after a season in which only the Spanish Supercopa was won, it’s time for a change of direction.
Coach Luis Enrique has clear ideas on how he wants to manage the club and one of his requests on arrival was the signing of a top-class striker. They don’t come much better than Suarez.
Liverpool won’t be bullied into selling on the cheap, especially after their star striker signed a new contract just last summer, but Suarez is hugely ambitious and hasn’t hidden his desire to move to one of Europe’s elite in the past, “There’s still nothing concrete, but it would be difficult to say no to Real Madrid,” he said in May of last year.
Ultimately, he ended up staying, but Barcelona are pushing hard for his services this time around as Madrid look to the less controversial figure of Radamel Falcao instead. “Barcelona want a forward and defenders,” club president Josep Maria Bartomeu admitted on Tuesday. “We have players in mind and they excite us.”
Due to his four-month ban for biting Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay’s 1-0 win over Italy on June 24, Suarez will be out of action until late October. When he returns, however, he will offer fresh tactical options to the Catalans.
With Alexis Sanchez still considering his future and looking likely to leave Camp Nou this summer, Suarez will join Lionel Messi and Neymar in a trident formed by South America’s three most-feared forwards.
In terms of his footballing abilities, Suarez ticks all the boxes for Barca. The former Ajax striker is 27, approaching what should be his prime, and can feature in a number of positions. Comfortable in the centre-forward role, where he struck 31 goals for Liverpool in the Premier League last season, the Uruguayan can also operate as a support striker or on either flank. He has the ability to drop deep, roam free, dribble from an inside forward role or act as a playmaker.
“Luis Suarez is the best striker in the world,” Diego Maradona said before the World Cup. And Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina, speaking in May, added: “He’s a superstar who can play in a number of different positions. He has it all. I’d recommend [to] any team in the world that they should sign him.”
Ultra-competitive, fast, hard-working and hungry, Suarez is just the type of player Luis Enrique admires and the new coach sees the Uruguayan as an essential element in his new Barca team. The 27-year-old is likely to start on the right, at least at the beginning, with Messi in the middle, but the idea is for the three forwards to roam and rotate, switching positions just as Luis Figo, Rivaldo and Patrick Kluivert used to in the side in which Luis Enrique himself played under Louis van Gaal.
For Uruguay, Suarez has often started in a three-man forward line alongside both Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani, mostly in the middle but sometimes on the left or on the right. Such flexibility is a big boost for Luis Enrique and another alternative – perhaps the best one of all – is for Messi to operate in a deeper role as he has for Argentina in this World Cup, with Suarez and Neymar further forward.
Tactically and technically, the Suarez signing seems perfect for a Barca side in need of renovation and renewal. Now, all he has to do is behave himself…
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