Saturday, Nov 01, 2014

As Lionel Messi’s role changes, Luis Suárez could be the right mix in Barcelona

New York Times | London | Posted: July 20, 2014 3:14 am | Updated: July 20, 2014 9:31 am

Even before the games were played out in Brazil, the reality of where many South American players’ priorities lie was being settled in Europe.

Luis Suárez, supposedly barred from going anywhere near a stadium for four months after biting an opponent during the World Cup, is on his way to Barcelona. The deal is done. Liverpool had no option but to sell the star player for about £75 million, or $128 million. Suárez’s wages will add another $17 million or so each season to that investment, and two players, Cesc Fàbregas (to Chelsea) and Alexis Sánchez (to Arsenal) have been sold to accommodate that outlay.

Suárez posted his fond farewell to Liverpool fans on the club’s website.

“It is with a heavy heart that I leave Liverpool,” he wrote. “Both me and my family have fallen in love with this club and the city. But most of all I have fallen in love with the incredible fans. You have always supported me and we, as a family, will never forget it, we will always be Liverpool supporters.” Take some of that as sincere. The main reason Suárez is joining his fifth club in eight years is family. He left Uruguay for Europe in the first place because the family of his then-sweetheart (and now his wife), Sofía Balbi, had moved to Barcelona. Now, he had a chance not only to move closer to her parents, but at the same time join one of the world’s iconic clubs.

While media speculation was centered on Real Madrid making Suárez its next target, Barça held the family card. And Suárez wielded the ultimate power in the modern game — player power. The question now is: Where does Suárez fit into Barcelona’s team?

An attacking line of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suárez is either the ultimate triumvirate, or a miasma of conflicting interests on a team that, every critic says, desperately needs defenders.

The answer will come on the field starting in November. Barcelona, in the meantime, will offer counseling to curb his inclination to bite opposing players. He has done that three times now, which has flawed his ability to strike audacious goals from seemingly impossible angles, year after year, in the Dutch and the  English leagues.

Man in transition

Where to fit him in? Messi’s role is changing. His own transition into a family man came with the birth of his first son a year ago. His body has started to rebel against the workload that he took upon himself to score a goal a game while running mile after mile with a smile on his face and the ball under his command. Even as he has taken Argentina to the World Cup final, the critics are asking where the “old” Messi is. Where are the mesmerizing runs, the coruscating dribbles as he risks injuries from malevolent opponents when he tricks them one after the other?

Messi, I was assured by Barcelona’s president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, is not for sale at any price. He is Barça’s soul. Any player, be they continued…

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