Uruguay had just beaten England, and members of La Celeste went to Luis Suarez, picked him up and put him on their shoulders. Then they took him down and kissed him. It was as if they had won the World Cup itself, but at that particular moment they came to realize that they had not just Suarez back but their teammate.
After he underwent minor surgery on his knee last month, and when he was rolled out of a hospital in Montevideo in sweats and a grey hoody, he never once looked like a man defeated. He smiled as cameras flashed. He just kept saying that he felt better every day. His teammates did not so much speak about the goals that he could and would score in the World Cup. They spoke about his presence. They laughed with him in training. Because Suarez—despite all the criticism and the hate and the biting—is a player others want to fight for.
Suarez is the player that supplanted Diego Forlan, and even Forlan understood. He knew his role. Forlan couldn’t not wait to have his teammate back. Even his Liverpool teammates playing for England on the opposite side of the divide spoke about the “fighter” he is.
And Suarez could not wait. He approached one of the microphones on the side of the pitch after that match and said he dreamt of this moment, scoring twice against the country that watches him weekly. He was almost on the verge of crying after he scored the winner, and he was visibly exasperated while talking post-match. It was like Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring all those goals against England, as if he had something to prove.
Forget that Suarez broke records and scored 31 goals in the Premier League last season. Forget that he wasn’t 100 per cent. This was a chance to hurt England the hardest and remind them that there’s more to him than the monster that the media portrays him to be.
At one point he claimed that the media were conspiring against him, concocting stories about him just like they did to Cristiano Ronaldo and Mario Balotelli. It has always been a struggle for Suarez to fit in. When his parents moved away from little Salto in the northwest of Uruguay all the way down south to Montevideo, Suarez did not go at first. He stayed with his grandmother. Eventually he went to the big city but after the school year ended, he went straight back. All he wanted was the grass under his feet, playing with a football barefoot. When he went to the city, that was impossible.
It’s been hard for him to find a comfort level. His wife and kids are the equalizers. They probably keep him sane. He always needed a spine for his uneasy life, ever since that big move, even worse when his parents separated when he was nine.
He seems like a person who only allows certain people into his circle, before and especially now, heightened by the fame. Undoubtedly he has brought a lot of the attention upon himself. After all, he was suspended a grand total of 18 matches in the Premier League. Not once but twice did he bite another player. There are many against him because he is against many.
His relationship with England is especially strange. The English know and understand the vastness of his talent. They watched him grow, but they also watched him dive and do despicable things. Last year he almost left Liverpool, and fans began to burn his jersey. He did an interview and expressed his desire to leave. If he had his way, he would have left. But then something happened: he scored, and it all went away. He scored against England, and after he looked exhausted. Not physically but emotionally. So much was riding on the result, his health and fitness, and he had a personal mission against England. “So,” he said, “here you are.”
Here we are, and Suarez has not yet completed the ultimate mission: progressing in the World Cup. Uruguay and Italy play on Tuesday for the right to live on in the tournament. With the Italians he doesn’t appear to have a similar deep-seeded beef. Just a win or a loss at stake. This will be Suarez in his pure form, as a striker who needs to get another goal and guide a team that loves him back, no matter what the rest say.
Follow Anthony on Twitter at @sportscaddy