El Clasico: Luis Suarez prepares for Barca baptism of fire
After 122 days Luis Suarez will be free to take part in a competitive match again and not just any game, but the biggest one in world football when Barcelona face Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday
Madrid: After 122 days Luis Suarez will be free to take part in a competitive match again and not just any game, but the biggest one in world football when Barcelona face Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.
Much has changed since Suarez sunk his teeth into the shoulder of Italy's Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup back in June. He was lambasted and ridiculed in equal measure by commentators the world over, handed a four-month ban from by FIFA as the bite was his third offence and changed clubs.
Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez
Suarez admitted recently he feared his latest indiscretion would result in dream move from Liverpool to Barca falling through, but the Catalans instead invested their faith and £75 million ($127 million, 95 million euros) in the Uruguayan's undoubted ability. "I was scared that they would call it off, as a repercussion of the incident. I was aware that could have happened," he said.
"By then the contact had begun with Barca and soon (his agent) Pere Guardiola would ring me and tell me it was done. "I began to cry, for the situation I was going through and the faith Barca had shown in me. I felt really happy for the commitment the club were demonstrating in me." The time for the repayment of that faith has now come.
Suarez's 31 Premier League goals took Liverpool to the verge of a first title in 24 years last season and saw him crowned both the players' and writers' player of the year. Yet, he will have to get used to being a smaller fish in a bigger pond at Barca. Suarez joins an already star-studded and in-form forward line in four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and Brazilian captain Neymar in a lineup beyond the budgets of even the majority of fantasy football managers.
All three suffered their share of disappointment at the World Cup. Messi a beaten finalist with Argentina, Neymar having his dreams of victory on home soil cruelly torn away by broken vertebrae in his back. However, they have put that behind them quickly to start the season in stunning form. Messi has been back to his best with nine goals and 11 assists in 11 appearances, whilst Neymar has struck 10 times in as many games.
"We are desperately awaiting the return of Luis because he will give us a lot of strength as a team," Messi said after Barca's 3-1 win over Ajax on Tuesday. "He is a great striker who will score a lot of goals. I am happy for him because he has spent a lot of time without playing." What remains unclear is whether Suarez's debut will come as a starter or a substitute at the Bernabeu.
"He is very intense in the training sessions, he places a lot of importance in the day-to-day work and we hope that he will offer a lot," said Barca boss Luis Enrique in dismissing concerns over his fitness. "From what I have seen of him in these weeks it is clear that he is getting close to his best."
His match sharpness and confidence was also boosted by scoring twice in friendlies for Uruguay against Saudi Arabia and Oman earlier this month. Now he must take Messi and Neymar's lead by putting his World Cup nightmare behind him to remind the world why is not just one of the most controversial, but best players on the planet.