Barcelona, who already have Lionel Messi and Neymar up front, will boast an even more fearsome strike force next season after agreeing to buy disgraced Uruguayan Luis Suarez from Liverpool on Friday. After enduring a first campaign without major silverware in six years, the Catalan club are to bolster their attack by signing Suarez on a five-year contract for a transfer fee that media reports put at 81 million euros ($111 million).
If the price is confirmed it would be the third most expensive deal in soccer history after Barca's arch rivals Real Madrid paid 100 million euros for Gareth Bale and 94 million for Cristiano Ronaldo. "The player (Suarez) will travel to Barcelona next week for a medical and sign a contract for the next five seasons," Barca said on their website (www.fcbarcelona.es).
Suarez, 27, the Premier League's top scorer last season with 31 goals, will not be able to play for his new team until the end of October. He was expelled from the World Cup in Brazil last month and given a nine-match competitive international ban as well as a four-month suspension from any soccer-related activities for biting Giorgio Chiellini.
After initially denying that he bit the Italy defender, the Uruguay international later issued a carefully-worded statement admitting his offence, the third time he has bitten an opponent during a match, and vowed there would be no repeat. The news of his deal with Barca came a day after the club agreed to sell Chile forward Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal. Suarez will work under Luis Enrique who took over from Gerardo Martino as coach at the end of last season.
While Barca look to have completed their forward lineup, they are still looking for at least one centre back to shore up a defence that woefully underperformed last term. Suarez said he was leaving Liverpool "with a heavy heart" but added that moving to Spain had been "a lifelong dream and ambition".
- Right Timing -
"Both me and my family have fallen in love with this club and with the city," he said in a message to the Anfield fans. "This club did all they could to get me to stay but playing and living in Spain, where my wife's family live, is a lifelong dream and ambition. I believe now the timing is right. "I wish (manager) Brendan Rodgers and the team well for the future. The club is in great hands and I'm sure will be successful again next season," said Suarez.
"I am very proud I have played my part in helping to return Liverpool to the elite of the Premier League and in particular back into the Champions League. "Thank you again for some great moments and memories. You'll Never Walk Alone," he added in a reference to the club's anthem. Rodgers underlined the fact the club had tried to persuade Suarez to stay at Anfield.
"It is with great reluctance and following lengthy discussions we have eventually agreed to his wishes to move to Spain for new experiences and challenges," said Rodgers. The Liverpool manager added that Suarez's 23 million pounds move from Ajax Amsterdam to Liverpool in January 2011 had made him a better footballer.
"I think he would be the first to accept he has improved as a player over that period ... as we have benefited from him," Rodgers said. "We are focused on the future as we strive to continue with the progress we have made and build on last season's excellent Barclays Premier League campaign. "I am confident we will improve the team further and will be stronger this coming season when we will be competing on all fronts, domestically and in the greatest club competition in the world, the Champions League."
Liverpool have been champions of Europe five times, most recently in 2005, and Rodgers said he was striving to push them back among the elite of European football. "If there is one thing the history of this great club teaches us it is that Liverpool FC is bigger than any individual," he explained. "I hope our supporters continue to dream and believe that we are moving forward and with continued improvement and progression, together we will bring the success we all crave and deserve."
($1 = 0.7331 Euros) (Writing by Iain Rogers, editing by Tony Jimenez/Tony Goodson)