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Luis Suarez: Understanding the method behind his madness

Photo Courtesy: Getty images
Photo Courtesy: Getty images

As brilliant as he may be, Barcelona striker Luis Suarez definitely has a Mr Hyde kind of alter ego – frequently involved in controversies, including three separate biting incidents over the span of his footballing career.

The 28-year-old has the Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi kind of “rags to riches” story, with Suarez himself claiming that he was unable to attend a youth training camp in Argentina as boy due to him not having enough money for a pair of boots.

Suarez, the fourth of six brothers, had to fight tooth and nail with his siblings over pretty much everything as there wasn’t much money around the house; his mother had to bring up seven boys single-handedly following her divorce in 1996.

Making his own luck

Born in Salto, Suarez started playing football on the streets of Montevideo (the capital of Uruguay), after his family moved there in 1994. His street football skills began to attract attention, and he was soon asked to attend a national youth training camp in La Plata, Argentina. However, he was forced to decline because he didn’t have the money to buy a pair of boots.

His life finally took a dramatic turn when he was signed by Nacional de Montevideo, one of the most successful clubs in Uruguay, at the age of 14. By 16, Suarez was a part of the Nacional senior squad, and he went to make his official debut for the first team in 2005. The striker enjoyed a successful debut season, netting 12 goals in 29 appearances, and helping Nacional clinch the domestic title in 2006.

The hot head

However, as Suarez’s prominence rose, so did his controversies. During his early days in Nacional, he was banned for several games after he headbutted a referee for showing him a red card. He was also given a warning by Nacional’s  youth team coach, after the striker was caught drinking and partying till the early hours of the morning.

However, these minor controversies did not hinder Suarez’s progress as a footballer as he was soon signed by Dutch side Groningen (for an estimated €800,000) at the age of 19, following his impressive debut campaign at Nacional.

At first consigned to the Groningen second team, Suarez quickly broke through to the first squad, where he established himself as a key player, scoring some important goals in the Dutch league and other competitions.

Suarez ended his first season in Europe scoring 17 goals from 37 appearances in all competitions. His fine form also earned him his first international call up, and the striker made his debut for Uruguay on February 8, 2007.

Despite doing so well in Europe, Suarez faced a lot of disciplinary problems, picking up a number of booking and red cards due to him not being able to control his temper. Still, this did not matter as he ended up joining Dutch giants Ajax in the summer of 2007 for an estimated €7.5 million.

In his first season at Ajax, Suarez developed a good partnership with league top scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and ended up scoring 22 goals in 42 appearances in all competitions.

In his second season, the striker was even more impressive, scoring 22 goals in 31 league games (only a goal behind the 2008/09 Eredivisie golden boot winner Mounir El Hamdaoui).

The following season would become Suarez’s best: 49 goals in 48 appearances. The striker was named Dutch Player of the Year.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

For Every Dr Jekyll, there is a Mr Hyde. Suarez’s first controversy that drew global headlines came in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, during a quarter-final clash between Uruguay and Ghana. With only minutes remaining, Suarez intentionally stopped Ghana striker Dominic Adiyiah’s goal bound header with his hand inside the box. He was shown a straight red card and Ghana were awarded a penalty, which Asamoah Gyan missed. Uruguay went on to win the game 4-2 on penalties.

The African media heavily criticised Suarez after he, instead of showing remorse for his actions, boasted that he made an important save for his team and Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” now belonged to him.

Soon, Suarez was involved in another major forgettable incident, this time at his club where he was found guilty of biting PSV attacker Otman Bakkal, following a red card incident.

Although Ajax suspended Suarez for two games and handed him a hefty fine, KNVB (the Dutch football committee) opened their own investigation, and handed Suarez a seven-match ban, which his club decided not to appeal.

He was heavily criticised by the Dutch media, with De Telegraaf dubbing him the “Cannibal of Ajax”. Suarez was forced to make a public apology, which he subsequently did by releasing a video on Facebook.

Things got worse when Ajax boss Frank de Boer stripped Suarez of his captaincy following the incident, and the striker announced his intention to leave the club.

New club, same story

With reports linking him to several clubs, the Uruguayan finally joined Liverpool in January 2010 for a club record of £22.8 million.

Suarez’s first full-fledged season (2011/12) at Liverpool was again marred by controversy after Manchester United defender Patrice Evra accused the striker of racially abusing him during a Premier League fixture on 15 October 2011. Though Suarez plainly denied these accusations, the FA found him guilty and he was fined £40,000 and banned for eight-matches.

The following season, Suarez’s goal-scoring form returned; he netted 30 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool. However, just before the end of the 2012/13 season, the striker was involved in another biting incident.

This time Suarez bit Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic on the right shoulder during a Premier League clash, after he was out-muscled by the Serbian during a corner. Although the referee failed to notice the incident during the match, the FA opened an investigation and the striker was handed a 10-match ban.

Despite being heavily criticised and ridiculed by the entire footballing world, Suarez made a strong comeback in 2013/14, equalling the Premier League record of most goals in a 38-match season by scoring 31 goals in 33 appearances.

The striker swept all the awards and accolades in England, too, that season.

And just when it seemed that Suarez was rising above his controversies, he was involved in a third biting incident during the 2014 World Cup.

Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini found the striker’s teeth embedded on his right shoulder during a group game between the Azzurri and Uruguay. Despite Chiellini’s complaints, the referee gave the benefit of doubt to Suarez, who was comically holding his teeth. Uruguay went on to win the game 1-0.

Fifa, however, after retrospectively analysing the incident, found Suarez guilty and banned from all football for four months, including a nine-match international ban and a fine of £66,000. In addition to being banned from competitive football, Suarez was not even allowed to train with his teammates or enter a football stadium. As the punishment was immediate in effect, Suarez could take no further part in the 2014 World Cup.

A miracle in Barcelona

Despite his lengthy ban, Barcelona showed an interest in signing Suarez and the Uruguayan eventually completed a £75 million (€94 million) move to the Nou Camp after the World Cup.

Since his move to Barcelona, Suarez has surprisingly not been involved in any additional controversies. He is playing exceptionally well and seems to be enjoying the company of Lionel Messi and Neymar.

Only time will tell whether the 28-year-old has finally turned a new leaf.

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