Combining game-changing brilliance with headline-grabbing controversy, striker Luis Suarez joins Barcelona with one foot among the greats and the other planted firmly in soccer's hall of infamy. The Uruguayan, whose move to the Spanish side from Liverpool was announced on Friday, played both hero and villain at the World Cup in Brazil just as he had in South Africa four years earlier. Both tournaments highlighted the two sides of his career.
In Brazil, Suarez came back from injury to score twice and effectively knock England out of the tournament. And then he showed his teeth. From the moment he bit into Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder, the world came crashing in and Barcelona's new signing moves to the Nou Camp despite a four-month suspension from all soccer activities, a fine and a nine-match international ban.
In South Africa, he had forged a reputation as a sharp-eyed goal-getter but then committed a goalline handball that ultimately denied opponents Ghana a place in the semi-finals. It is a pattern that has been repeated throughout a footballing career where the peaks have been moments of maverick ability and ingenuity that have propelled him into the stratosphere of the game's elite.
The troughs, however, have come to define him just as much. Suarez has now picked up three long suspensions for biting, one for racist abuse and acquired a reputation for diving that has stuck with him despite valiant efforts to shed it. His abundant quality has never been in doubt. He has a unique ability to engineer and get the better of defenders in one-on-one situations, a deadly finish and a knack for pulling off the spectacular. That can be lethal when combined with a streak of sheer competitiveness and a healthy distaste for defeat that gives him an almost unrivalled work rate off the ball.
"I'm one of the best players in the world, so having the opportunity to win everything - and losing only occasionally - is what drives me," he told Four Four Two magazine this year."I'm ambitious. I want to win and won't stop until I score one, two or more goals."
- Record Season -
Despite unfounded fears that a knee injury could scupper his hopes of making the Uruguay squad, he headed to the World Cup in Brazil in the form of his life. His World Cup qualifying goals, 11 in 16 matches, helped book Uruguay's spot at the finals, while at club side Liverpool, his haul of 31 league strikes was the fuel for an unexpected title challenge that only fell away in the final weeks.
Suarez finished the season with a share of the European Golden Boot and was named Footballer of the Year by the Professional Footballers' Association and the Football Writers' Association. Individual accolades counted for little, however, as the ultra-competitive schemer was reduced to a tearful wreck as he trudged disconsolately off the pitch after a calamitous 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace hit Liverpool's title hopes.
In another microcosm of the Suarez saga, his record-breaking season began under the cloud of a lengthy suspension and amid accusations of brazen disloyalty. Heading into the campaign and with six games still to serve from a 10-match ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic last April, Suarez tested the patience of Liverpool fans by trying to force a move to title rivals Arsenal.
The striker was ultimately persuaded that his ambitions could be satisfied on Merseyside, but the will-he-won't-he saga dominated the transfer-hungry English media in the close season. It was not the first time Suarez had found himself hogging the headlines, with question marks hanging over his character.
Before arriving at Anfield, he was branded the "Cannibal of Ajax" by the Dutch media after biting PSV Eindhoven's Otman Bakkal, an offence that drew a seven-match ban. He had been at Liverpool just 10 months when he had to sit out eight matches for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra, while an early fondness for going to ground quickly in the penalty area won him few admirers.
By alienating many neutral fans, his first seasons in England made life easy for tabloid journalists on the lookout for a pantomime villain.
- Shrewd Move -
For supporters of Ghana, however, his greatest indiscretion was at the 2010 World Cup where his impromptu goalkeeping skills proved cruelly decisive. Three goals in the opening four games had helped Uruguay reach the quarter-finals. Yet with their last-eight clash locked at 1-1 heading into the final minute of extra-time, Dominic Adiyiah headed what should have been the winner, until Suarez leapt to parry his effort to safety, earning a red card for his efforts.
It proved a shrewd move, however, as Asamoah Gyan hit the bar with the resulting penalty, as cameras panned to Suarez, who wheeled away pumping his clenched fists in celebration. Brazil 2014 gave Suarez an opportunity to continue his stunning season, but oncce again the scales tipped from the side of the good to that of the bad.
"This is my best season yet. I feel in a very good place, physically and mentally...personally speaking, I want to continue that mentality throughout the World Cup with Uruguay," he had said. "I'm 27, at my peak...I like winning. I hate losing - I've done enough of that."
But again his unpredictable temperament and iron will to succeed at all costs let him down.
(Editing by Tony Goodson/Alan Baldwin)