Flawed genius

AP

Following his move to Liverpool, Luis Suarez was soon a new Kop hero but he has continued to make headlines as much for his behaviour as for his performances. By George Pitts.

After a turbulent year, Luis Suarez could finish with a flourish after a rich vein of goal-scoring form.

He has come a long way in a career which started in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, with Nacional. After his childhood sweetheart Sofia Balbi moved to Europe to study in Barcelona, Suarez upped his game in an effort to get a transfer to Europe. His hard work paid dividends when Dutch side FC Groningen signed him as a 19-year old for approximately Euro 800,000.

An eye-catching season led to Dutch giants Ajax making bold attempts to sign him, eventually succeeding for Euro 7.5 million and it proved a wise investment.

Suarez made 159 appearances (all starts, none from the bench), scoring 111 times for the Amsterdam club although his time in the Netherlands had its negative moments, including when he bit opponent Otman Bakkal.

He ended his stay in the Netherlands midway through the 2010/11 season, when Kenny Dalglish signed him for Liverpool for GBP 22.8 million.

He was soon a new Kop hero but he has continued to make headlines as much for his behaviour as for his performances. In December 2011 he was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra and received an eight-match ban.

His club tried to defend him — with the players even controversially wearing tee-shirts showing their support for their team-mate — but to no avail.

The authorities came down hard again in April 2013 when Suarez again sunk his teeth into an opponent, this time Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. Once again Liverpool felt he had been harshly treated and issued a statement saying they were “shocked and disappointed at the severity” of the disciplinary action.

Such loss of control has been a significant blight on an otherwise impressive career, with Suarez netting 30 goals in 44 appearances during the 2012/13 season. It was not enough to secure a top-four finish for the Reds though and he stunned the club and their supporters in August when he requested to leave, citing a lack of UEFA Champions League football as the reason.

“I gave absolutely everything last season. Now all I want is for Liverpool to honour our agreement,” he told Spanish-based newspapers. “Last year I had the opportunity to move to a big European club and I stayed on the understanding that if we failed to qualify for the Champions League the following season I’d be allowed to go.”

EPL rivals Arsenal lodged two bids, the second being over the GBP 40m figure which they believed would trigger a release clause in his contract but Liverpool refused to budge.

The pressure is now on them to qualify for European football’s elite club competition to avoid a similar scenario next summer. The signs certainly look good following an impressive start to the season and since his return from suspension, Suarez has formed a deadly partnership with fellow front-man Daniel Sturridge.

Suarez will also be part of the Uruguay squad that travels to Brazil for the World Cup finals in the summer, and even on the biggest stage he has history of bad behaviour.

He famously handled the ball on the line to deny Ghana a last-minute winner in their quarter-final clash in South Africa in 2010. Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty and Uruguay went on to win in a penalty shootout with Suarez then referring to Diego Maradona’s goal against England in 1986 when he said: “Mine is the real ‘Hand of God’. I made the save of the tournament.”

With Liverpool chasing a top-four place and Uruguay preparing for the World Cup, Suarez has a big few months ahead.

He drives a white Cadillac Escalade, previously owned by former team-mate Pepe Reina. Married to teenage sweetheart Sofia, the duo have a daughter Delfina — which is an anagram of Anfield — and a baby son, Benjamin.

* * * FACTFILE The Player: Luis Suarez Position: Forward Club: Liverpool DOB: 24/01/1987 International caps: 71 International goals: 38

Moment to remember: Winning the Copa America with Uruguay in 2011 and being named as the Player of the Tournament.

Moment to forget: Being slapped with a 10-game ban after infamously biting Branislav Ivanovic during a game against Chelsea.

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