, July 23, 2021

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Luis Suarez’s Atletico Madrid impact proves Barcelona were wrong to let him leave


  •   3 min reads
Suarez scored a trademark goal against Valladolid to give Atleti the title. Ballesteros/EPA.

When the story of Atletico Madrid's championship season is told across Spain in coming years, the climax will inevitably be the two winning goals that Luis Suarez produced in the final two matches of the campaign. After going down 1-0 to Osasuna, Suarez swept home a finish in the 89th minute to complete the turnaround in the penultimate match.

His goal in the final match of the season was, impossibly, even more joyous. It wasn't at the death, but Suarez provided that trademark incisive finish aided by his own superb positioning on the break. The goal capped the second straight comeback from a 1-0 deficit, sending Valladolid down on the final day and giving Atletico Madrid their first La Liga trophy in seven years.

It was fitting Suarez delivered that moment of pure euphoria for Atleti. The Uruguayan striker has made all the difference for the capital club this season, scoring 21 goals in 33 La Liga appearances. Without Suarez and his ability for finding the back of the net, Atletico Madrid would be nowhere near the title.

What was also fitting was that at the same time Suarez was edging Atleti closer to the title, his former side Barcelona were conceding a second goal at home to Celta Vigo to dump them out of contention at the top of La Liga. The Catalans surely now regret letting Suarez walk out the door last summer.

Barca’s decision to offload Suarez came as a surprise to many. While the Uruguayan had suffered injuries, while his fitness had become something of a concern, he was still the best penalty box poacher at Camp Nou. His sale to Atleti appeared to indicate the arrival of a new centre forward, but nobody was signed as Suarez’s replacement.

Suarez was Lionel Messi’s closest confidant in the dressing room. This is another reason Barcelona’s eagerness to get rid of the 34-year-old was so perplexing. At a time when Messi’s future at the club is up in the air, separating him from his on and off the field partner was a bold move that could have aggravated the Argentine further.

“You deserved to depart as one of the most important players in the club’s history, not for them to kick you out like they did,” Messi explained when asked how he reacted to Suarez’s switch to Atletico Madrid. Indeed, the way Barcelona treated one of the greatest ever goalscorers left a bitter taste in the mouth.

There was, of course, a financial element to Suarez’s exit from Barcelona. The Uruguayan was one of the highest-paid players at Camp Nou. With Barca, under pressure amid the Covid-19 pandemic, carrying around €1 billion in debt, the club’s hierarchy felt they had no choice but to make some cuts to their wage bill. The departure of Suarez was a shortcut to this.

That Barcelona allowed Suarez to join a direct rival in their own league highlights just how keen they were to see the striker depart. This decision has clearly backfired, with Suarez leading Atletico Madrid to the title and Barcelona facing yet more upheaval, with Ronald Koeman expected to be fired once the 2020/21 season is over.

Without Suarez leading the line, Barcelona have lacked attacking purpose. Koeman has achieved some success with a 3-5-2 system which puts Antoine Griezmann and Messi at the head of the attack, but while the latter has hit the goal trail in 2021 the former’s form has been inconsistent. Martin Braithwaite, the only true penalty box finisher in the Barca squad, is only a stop-gap solution.

Speculation suggests Barcelona will enter the transfer market for a new centre forward this summer, with Sergio Aguero and Erling Haaland reportedly on their radar, but a full season has already been wasted. If 32-year-old Aguero signs this summer, fans will be entitled to ask - why was a 33-year-old Suarez pushed out the door?

The impact Suarez has made at Atletico Madrid is reminiscent of the impact David Villa made at the club after leaving Barcelona in the summer of 2013, helping Los Colchoneros to the Spanish title in his only season there. It seems likely that Atleti will get more than just one season out of Suarez, too.

Diego Simeone has built his team around Suarez as the attacking apex. Of course, Atletico Madrid’s success this season has been down to much more than just the Uruguayan’s goals, with Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente both in exceptional form, but his arrival at the Wanda Metropolitano last summer highlighted the club’s renewed ambition. The sight of them lifting the La Liga trophy in Suarez’s hands this weekend was a symbol of that ambition achieved.

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