Luis Suárez's spectacular first season at Barcelona earned him a nomination as UEFA Best Player in Europe 2014/15 – our reporter Graham Hunter explains why.
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Given the extent of his triumph it is worth recalling that Luis Suárez arrived at Barcelona in difficult, controversial even, circumstances as he was serving a four-month suspension.
For a footballer to be signed by such a demanding club – the opportunity of a lifetime – and then have to wait until late October to gain match fitness or show his worth represented, self-inflicted or not, a test of patience, determination and natural ability.
Fast-forward to the end of that narrative in May, however, with the Uruguayan having won the treble and scored in a victorious UEFA Champions League final, and it is clear that he passed his examination of character and resilience. Yet the story of the No9's 2014/15 campaign is even richer and deeper than that.
For example, it was notable that on Suárez's debut, in the Clásico at the Santiago Bernabéu, he provided a trademark assist for Neymar to open the scoring. Quite a calling card. Nevertheless, Barça lost to Real Madrid that day, lost their next Liga match and by the turn of the year found themselves in what was the only real tempest in the club's otherwise sunny season.
Defeat by Real Sociedad in early January, the ensuing media scrutiny of Luis Enrique's selection policy and an intimidating sequence of impending fixtures left question marks. Suárez dispelled them nearly single-handedly.
The team's next Liga performance, beating champions Atlético Madrid 3-1 at the Camp Nou, was throbbingly good – stimulated by the former Nacional, Groningen, Ajax and Liverpool forward's energy, intelligence and impishness. From his goal that night, he then scored or assisted – or both – in eight of the next ten Liga games, culminating in his clincher against Real Madrid in the second Clásico. Cometh the hour, cometh the Uruguayan.
He lit the Blaugrana touchpaper. He made the space. He was the gritty extra element – the sacrifice and the smarts – which opened up channels for Neymar and Lionel Messi to exploit. He was the goal-hungry striker who consistently squared the ball instead of netting himself. In Europe it was precisely the same pattern.
Tough draw? Yes, but he notched twice at Manchester City, transforming a difficult away trip into a showcase which practically put his side into the last eight. Barcelona were drawn away to Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their quarter-final. However, Suárez was now scoring for fun, devouring the pressure and converting it into momentum and success. Two more goals – and another away hurdle instantly converted into a vaulting horse to the semi-finals.
The stuff of winners. Adored by his team-mates, booked just seven times in 43 matches, champion of Spain and champion of Europe – all in all, a season of which Luis Suárez could be immensely proud.