Luis Suarez: Cannibal of Anfield

When Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez named Luis Suarez in his playing eleven against England a fews days back, he was gambling big time. Suarez was coming out of a knee surgery, hence there was a question mark over his ability to last 90 minutes. But more than that, Tabarez would have been worried about his talismanic striker’s temperament. Suarez’s mind has two fascinating halves – one that is driven by loyalty and the other infested by the devil. 

Suarez is fiercely loyal – to his family, to his country and to a lesser extent to Liverpool. His desire to leave Liverpool, perhaps, stemmed from the relentless prying on him and his privacy by the English media that once termed him as the ‘Cannibal of Anfield’ after he bit Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea. It’s in direct contrast to his seemingly fundamental behavioural pattern. Suarez took great pains to marry his childhood sweetheart – Sofia – whom he met at the age of 14, and still has not forgotten his life in the tough streets of Montevideo where he came as a toddler after his father divorced his mother. 

Suarez could have hated his father for pushing him into a turbulent childhood, but once earned millions as a footballer, the forward chose to reconcile with his dad. Many in England and Netherlands would not believe that side of Suarez. They have only seen a goal-scorer, whose brilliance has often been overshadowed by the flashes of the devil inside him. In fact, the earliest sign of his troubled side came during his stint with Nacional in Uruguay, when he head-butted a referee for showing a red card. He was just 16 then. His big break was a chance to play for Ajax Amsterdam, but along with the number of goals his notorious on-field reputation too swelled there. 

Suarez fought on the field with his team-mate Albert Luque over a free-kick, leading to his suspension, and later bit PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal on the shoulder, earning a two-match ban. There was little wonder when Ajax coach Marco van Basten termed the Uruguayan a “difficult customer.” Liverpool grabbed him along with Andy Carroll, in a celebrated twin signing but in Anfield too Suarez didn’t find peace, often at loggerheads with management and the fans. It was a strange mutual cold-shouldering. The stand-off didn’t affect his ability to find the back of the net, but Suarez counted himself a misfit in the elite surroundings of an English club with massive pedigree, and fans never totally accepted him despite winning several matches for the club. 

But his opponents were always in awe of Suarez. “Suarez, for me, is up there with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the best players in the world. It's difficult to prepare for him because he's very unpredictable in the way he plays. I think if you look at Ronaldo or Messi, you know what their strengths are. It's still difficult to stop, don't get me wrong, but you know to an extent what you are going to get. With Suarez, it's really difficult. He kicks the ball through you, he runs right through you,” said Wayne Rooney of Manchester United. 

Suarez showed his brilliance occasionally in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but the campaign ended in disgrace for him as he stopped a goalbound header of Dominic Adiyiah of Ghana. But for Suarez, it was the “most important save of his career.” Suarez showed that he could go to any extent for his country, and four years later he did that in a more conventional way, and it was only fitting that his extraordinary effort came against England. 

He pulled his body through the pain barrier to score a brace to help Uruguay stay afloat in the World Cup after a heavy defeat against Costa Rica. He has done crime, and served his time. Perhaps, he is at peace with himself now. A genius in his zone would not be a good news for opponents, and Italy may just be worried that much more. 

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