Suarez hoping to inflict pain on Real Madrid in Barcelona debut
Striker says biting days are over and that he understands uproar over Chiellini attack
Luis Suarez playing for Barcelona B in September. The former Liverpool striker is reportedly ’raring to go’ after serving his four-month ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini. Photographs: David Ramos/Getty Images
Luis Suárez has claimed that he is on the “right path” to becoming a reformed character having sought help to cure his “impulse” to bite people – but the Barcelona striker remains steadfast in his refusal to accept being labelled a racist over the 2011 incident with Patrice Evra.
Suárez, who is set to make his Barcelona debut against Real Madrid this evening, revealed that he has been seeing a therapist to cure his biting problem and admitted that he understood the uproar caused by his bite on Giorgio Chiellini during Uruguay’s 1-0 victory over Italy at the World Cup, which led to him being banned from competitive football for four months .
“I think all the bad things I have been through are in the past,” Suárez said. “I believe I am on the right path now, dealing with the people who can help me, the right kind of people.
“Everyone has different ways of defending themselves. In my case, the pressure and tension came out in that way. There are other players who react by breaking someone’s leg, or smashing someone’s nose across their face. What happened with Chiellini is seen as worse. I understand why biting is seen so badly.”
Suárez said that he had “no desire” to speak to anyone in the aftermath of the match against Italy. Fifa initially banned the 27-year-old from all football-related activity for four months and he was unavailable when Uruguay were knocked out of the World Cup by Colombia, although the court of arbitration for sport later ruled that he was able to train with his Barcelona team-mates and take part in friendly matches following an appeal.
However, he has not played competitively since June and Barcelona have been unable to select him since his £75m move from Liverpool.
The clash with Chiellini was the third time Suárez has bitten an opponent: he had previously been banned for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal in 2010 and Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic in 2013. He put each incident down to a momentary loss of control but added that he quickly realised what he was doing and pulled away. “Yes, it is like an impulse, like a reaction,” Suárez said. “Almost as if you realise straight away.”
However, Suárez once again denied that he deserved to be banned for eight matches and fined £40,000 in December 2011 after he was found guilty of racially abusing Evra during Liverpool’s match against Manchester United that October and is adamant that the Football Association punished him without proof . Suárez said that he called Evra “negro” once but justified it by saying that it is a common term in Uruguay.
“I know I was wrong with the biting and the diving but I was accused of racism without any proof,” Suárez said. “There were lots of cameras, but no evidence. It hurts me the most that it was my word against theirs.
“Every culture has its way of expressing itself, and that’s a word people in Uruguay use all the time, whether somebody’s black or not black. It gets used a lot without those connotations, and that’s why it is completely different to how it is expressed in England, no?”
Suárez, whose biography Crossing the Line – My Story is nearing publication, insisted his intent was not to insult Evra. “No, not at any time. I just said: ‘Why, negro?’ and it was just like asking: ‘Why?’ These are things that footballers say, that happen all the time.”
In Barcelona this week they have been thinking less about Suárez’s past and more about what magic he may produce in the future. His is the name on everyone’s lips, followed by the question: will he make a dramatic return against Real Madrid?
On Monday morning at Sant Joan Despi, the countdown had begun. “The only thing I’m obsessed about is Ajax; nothing else interests me,” Luis Enrique insists after the morning’s session, but few believed the Barcelona manager. The next game is the one that matters, he adds. But for Suárez, the next game is El Clásico – and indeed later in the week the manager does confirm the Uruguayan will play at least some part against Real.
Ajax was the last game Suárez served under his suspension, although his international ban will still see him miss the Copa America. At club level, he returns in the biggest match there is. The date he had circled was the one everyone else ended up circling too. When the fixture list came out, Suárez described it as “destiny”.
These have not been easy months. Suárez admitted to having felt “depressed”. Now the Uruguayan can make a new start. “I thought I had ruined my career. After what happened at the World Cup I spoke to my wife, I reflected, and I accepted reality. I began to feel better after I had said sorry,” he said. “That was when Barcelona came. When Pere [Guardiola, Suárez’s agent] called, I started crying. I was scared that they would back off because of the repercussion the incident caused.”
On joining Barcelona, Suárez was not allowed to train with his team-mates or appear at Sant Joan Despi or the Camp Nou. Instead he trained alone with a physical coach, alternating his sessions between two gyms – one in Barcelona, the other in Sitges.
“The first two months [of the ban] were the worst part; I didn’t even feel like a footballer and I didn’t feel like I was going to work,” Suárez told the club magazine. Soon, he would. On August 14th, Cas upheld the length of the ban but ruled that he could not be prevented from appearing in friendlies or from training with his team-mates.
Four days later Suárez played in the Gamper trophy and was presented the day after. By the time he had come on, Leo Messi and Neymar had departed. The experience was a strange one. He admits he felt he had been invited to appear, rather than really being part of the team. At least now he could start mentally marking the days on the dressing room wall, working towards his target: Madrid, October 25th at 6pm (5pm Irish time). “It is nice when you see that the way he trains reinforces the idea that you had of him,” Luis Enrique said. “He is happy to be here and he is very intense in training sessions; he places a lot of importance on the way he works day to day.”
There were occasional games too. A month later he played for Barcelona B against Indonesia under-19s. He scored twice, but over in Madrid some gleefully said he looked overweight. He then played for Uruguay against Saudi Arabia and Oman during the last international break. His volley forced the own goal in the first game and he scored twice in the second.
The tight shirts of his national team did him a favour. “You could see that he is not fat and he never has been,” Luis Enrique said. “He is on form, in shape, and ready to play.”
A week ago, Suárez was asked if he was 100 per cent fit. Could he actually make his debut in the Clásico? “If you had asked me before the international break, I might have said ‘no’ but I feel good after those games,” he replied. “Yes, I think I’m at 100 per cent.”
On Monday morning, as clásico week begun, Suárez raced round the circle pursuing the ball. “He is raring to go,” the goalkeeper Claudio Bravo said.
He is back. Again.