In 2013, David Villa moved from Barcelona to Atletico Madrid.
Under Diego Simeone’s watch, the Spaniard gelled with Diego Costa and brought joy to his new fans by delivering Atleti’s first league title in 18 years.
These memories have been evoked by Luis Suarez’s transfer. Like Villa, the Uruguayan marksman is trading Catalonia for the Spanish capital as a new coach settles into the increasingly uncomfortable Nou Camp throne.
Barca fans will be hoping the parallels cease there and it seems likely they will. It’s fair to say Villa was sharper then than Suarez is now – the former was 31 when he made the switch whereas Suarez turns 34 in January – and also that Atletico were stronger overall.
Ronald Koeman is overseeing a clear out of Barcelona’s fading stars. Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal have been sold for a combined fee of €1.5million. Arda Turan has also left the club on a permanent basis, though you would be forgiven for assuming he was shipped out years ago.
Younger talents Arthur and Nelson Semedo have also been sold with the club attempting an overhaul to address a decline that culminated in an embarrassing 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final. Barca’s dependence on Lionel Messi has become too great and the legendary Argentine is no longer capable of papering over all the cracks.
As Barcelona’s third highest scorer of all time, Suarez is the most high-profile casualty of the revamp. Messi has expressed his displeasure at the unceremonious nature of the club’s farewell and perhaps he has a point.
Our most recent memories of Suarez in the blue and red stripes feature a diluted imitation of the player he once was. Such was the enormity of his peak, the current sugar-free alternative still managed to plunder 25 goals in 2018/19 and 21 goals in 2019/20 — a record that justifies Atletico’s decision. However, those who watch Barca regularly would have observed a problematic decline in sharpness, intensity and work rate.
But it would not be right to allow thoughts of an ageing No9 to override those of Suarez in his prime, when he was the best centre-forward in the world.
His transfer to Barcelona was plunged into jeopardy because of his behaviour at the 2014 World Cup. Uruguay’s 1-0 win over Italy in the group stages was overshadowed by the third biting controversy of Suarez’s career. Having previously chomped on Otman Bakkal and Branislav Ivanovic, he completed a beastly trilogy by sinking his teeth into Giorgio Chiellini on the biggest stage.
Suarez was banned for four months and he feared Barcelona would look elsewhere as a result. The club reaffirmed their commitment to the transfer and he joined Messi and Neymar to form one of the most prolific attacking trios in football history.
Barcelona won the treble in Suarez’s first season with the No9 scoring 25 goals in all competitions, including seven in the Champions league, one of which was a decisive tap-in against Chiellini’s Juventus in the final, though the defender missed the game because of injury.
If 2014/15 was the highlight of his career in terms of team achievements, 2015/16 was his individual climax. Suarez scored 59 goals in all competitions throughout the campaign. His tally of 40 in the league earned him the Pichichi. 2014/15 remains the only season in which someone other than Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo has finished as La Liga top scorer since 2009.
During these peak years, Suarez blended supreme technical ability with insatiable hunger to take the form of a turbocharged Carlos Tevez. A fierce competitor who embraces the dark arts and dramatic antics that some find superfluous, he was the ultimate multi-faceted challenge for a centre-back. His style of football was to be crushed and snorted at 3am.
If there was ever a criticism of the Barcelona most associated with Xavi and Andres Iniesta, it was that their appreciation for football’s beautiful elements gave them a vulnerable underbelly, albeit one that was almost impossible to access. Streetwise Suarez gave them an edge.
On the pitch he was a bully in the truest sense: all mouth and snide digs but prepared to crumple in an instant if he provoked a reaction that could potentially land his target in hot water. Such theatrics mean he is disliked by many neutrals. This is unlikely to change under Simeone, especially with fellow rustler Costa as a team-mate.
And yet no matter how much anyone hates him, his effectiveness as a centre-forward throughout the 2010s can never be questioned. Most would begrudgingly admit Suarez is not just one of the very best players of the last 20 years, but an all-time great.
Whether this new chapter instills renewed vigour or continues along the path of the last two years, Suarez’s Barcelona career must be regarded as an example of modern striking excellence.