On July 11, 2014, Luis Suarez signed with the Spanish giants, FC Barcelona. Over the next six years, the Uruguayan striker would go on to solidify his status as a Barcelona legend and one of the best players to ever put on the Blaugrana shirt. From 2014 to 2020, Suarez won 13 trophies with the Catalan club, and scored 198 goals, becoming their third top scorer of all time. However, this past summer, after a few years of subpar results, Barcelona decided to shuffle their deck and look to a new era. This meant that several big-name players would have to leave, and Luis Suarez was the most high-profile departure, leaving for fellow Spanish club Atletico Madrid in September. Barcelona’s other top striker, Antoine Griezmann, was thought to be the long-term replacement for Suarez, but as the current season continues on, Suarez has adjusted well to life in Madrid while Griezmann has yet to score a single goal this season. This statistic begs the question, did Barcelona make a mistake by selling Luis Suarez?
After leaving his native Uruguay to play club football in the Netherlands, Luis Suarez rose to prominence on the global stage for his goalscoring abilities for Groningen, then Ajax as well as for the Uruguayan national team. A controversial character, Suarez was a player who never shied away from doing whatever it takes to win, no matter the consequence. Despite his provocative nature, he earned a move to Liverpool where he took his game to the next level, becoming one of the best players in the world and singlehandedly dragging Liverpool within inches of their first Premier League title in two decades. After that colossal season with Liverpool, Suarez moved to Barcelona for around 80 million euros with massive expectations on his shoulders. To the delight of Barcelona fans, he definitely lived up to those wishes, linking up with Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr. to form one of the most lethal attacking trios in football history.
Suarez’s first season was his best in terms of trophies as Barcelona won a historic treble; he even scored the winning goal in the Champions League Final against Juventus. While the 2014/15 season was Suarez’s best in terms of trophies, the 2015/16 season was his finest in terms of individual performances and accolades. He scored an insane 59 goals in 53 games on top of 16 assists. With these numbers, Suarez won the Pichichi award and the European Gold Boot as the top-scorer in both Spain and in Europe overall, breaking the Messi-Ronaldo hegemony.
Suarez turned 30 in 2017 and his form started to dip especially in important Champions League matches. However, he was still Barcelona’s second-best player behind Messi, and would still score goals in double digits every season. Beyond goals, he was also essential to the way Barcelona would play in terms of their buildup and team morale. As evidence, whenever Suarez was not in the squad, Barcelona played significantly worse.
In the summer of 2019, Barcelona signed the French striker, Antoine Griezmann, for 120 million Euros in a contentious transfer from Atletico Madrid. While not at the level of Suarez, Griezmann was still a world-class striker who was in the prime of his career. After spending his entire club career in Spain, Griezmann already had a great experience in La Liga, not to mention that he won the 2018 World Cup with France. With all this in mind, Griezmann was seen as the long-term replacement for Suarez.
Griezmann’s first season with Barcelona was disappointing by his high standards, scoring only 15 goals compared to his 21 last season with Atletico, or his 29 the season before. However, because Suarez was ahead in the pecking order, Griezmann would often have to play out of position on the wing as Suarez was the starting striker. Therefore, a dip in form was expected.
At the end of the 2019/20 season, Barcelona was left in ruins. After a Supercup loss to Atletico, manager Ernesto Valverde, was sacked in the middle of the season and Quique Setien was hired as a quick fix. The incompetence of the last few years from the Barcelona board came to a climax. Barcelona had one of the worst seasons in history, going trophyless and ending their Champions League campaign with a humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich. Following this defeat, top to bottom changes were required at Barcelona, and the complaints were finally heard. Unfortunately, the board did not resign (although they eventually would this October) but Setien and the majority of the coaching staff were sacked. Next was the squad, and many big players feared that they would be told to leave. To the detriment of many fans, Luis Suarez was one of those players as the new incoming coach Ronald Koeman told him he had no spot for him in his team.
Juventus then came calling, but after an issue with Suarez getting an Italian passport, he officially signed with Atletico Madrid on Sept. 23, 2020. Whether or not you agree with Suarez leaving, you have to admit the way they essentially kicked him out the door was incredibly disrespectful as he was reportedly informed of his forced departure by phone call. Within the next few days, Suarez visited his locker for the last time and said goodbye to his now-former teammates. This would be the last time Suarez walked through the Camp Nou as a Barcelona player. For a player who gave everything to this club for the past six years, the level of disregard was truly unfair.
On the pitch, many thought Griezmann would fit better into the team now that he can play centrally, filling Suarez’s role. However, seven matches into this season, Griezmann has zero goals in all competitions. He has played on the wing, in the number 10 role as a striker, yet he is unable to find any form, often looking out of position, unconfident in front of goal and lacking a real place in the team. In several of the biggest matches, Koeman has even benched Griezmann for younger players who are in better form. On the flip side, Suarez currently has four goals in seven matches for Atletico Madrid making him their top-scorer so far. He has slotted perfectly into Diego Simeone’s style of play and is linking up wonderfully with both Joao Felix and Angel Correa.
In my opinion, this offers all the evidence you need to prove that Barcelona made the wrong decision to sell Luis Suarez. While sure, he is older and some of his pace and sharpness are gone, he still has raw talent along with true hunger for the game. Yes, if Suarez remained at Barcelona, Griezmann would again be pushed off to the side, but one can argue that Griezmann was never a fit for Barcelona in the first place and therefore never should’ve been signed. As mentioned before, the Barcelona board made a plethora of bad decisions; the sale of Suarez and purchase of Griezmann can be considered two of the largest examples. Not to mention that in recent games, Barcelona lost 3-1 to Real Madrid, 1-0 to Getafe and tied 0-0 with Sevilla as they hit a bad run of form following a strong start to the season. In these three matches, the biggest problem was the ball in the final third. They would often create many good chances, but when it comes to that final pass or the shot on goal, the players would fail to capitalize. One could only wonder if Barcelona still had a pure goal-scorer like Luis Suarez in the team, if they still would have dropped points in these three matches.
To be fair, there still is a lot of validity to the argument that Barcelona made the right decision to sell Suarez, regardless of Griezmann’s performances. For example, due to, yet again, the board’s terrible decision-making, Barcelona has been in a negative financial situation. Behind Messi, Suarez was the biggest name on the wage bill, and freeing up those funds is a great amount of money that can be spent elsewhere. On the pitch, one can also argue that Suarez’s best years are far behind him, and keeping him would only hurt the squad overall. At Barcelona, Suarez averaged 33 goals a season, but in the 2019/20 season, he only scored 21. Sure, he missed a major part of the season due to a knee injury, but his age also means injuries like these will become more common. Injury aside, Suarez’s goal tally has declined bit by bit every season since 2015/16. As a result of playing an enormous amount of games every season and the inevitable fatigue, Suarez lost a lot of his sharpness in the past two seasons. He would make great runs, get into the right positions, but his shots would be off, his passes would not find their target or he would lose the ball, ruining what could have been a good attack for the team.
Overall, I still believe that Suarez should have stayed a Barcelona player this season. While he is not the same player he was in 2016, he is still one of the most talented strikers in the world and a club legend. What they should have done is tell Suarez that he would stay, but his role would be reduced in order to give opportunities to younger players. In this system, Griezmann would be able to have the spotlight, being the main striker, while Suarez would start on the bench, coming on in the second half as an impact sub. This would give Griezmann the confidence knowing he is the main man, but at the same time, Suarez’s talents would still be at Barcelona’s disposal. Also, given that he would not be playing as many games, he would be less inclined to injury and he would be less fatigued, meaning he would be more clinical in front of goal.
Regardless of whether or not Luis Suarez is currently contracted to Barcelona, he will always remain a Barcelona player in the hearts of the fans, and his departure does not take away from any of the success he enjoyed in the Catalan capital.