Luis Suárez: Genius or Outcast?
Uruguayan superstar Luis Suárez divides opinions. Beloved by many, despised by more. This is a man who attracted the ire of an entire continent; a man notorious for biting opponents; but also a family man and a generational talent. Seneca the Younger once wrote that there is no genius without a touch of madness, but Suárez has consistently blurred the line between mastermind and maniac.
July 2, 2010, World Cup quarterfinals in South Africa. The score is 1–1 in stoppage time of extra time between Ghana and Uruguay. A brilliant Sulley Muntari opener was canceled out by an equally amazing Diego Forlán strike. Ghana was the last African team left in the competition, the tournament darling; they carried the hopes of an entire continent on their shoulders. Enter Luis Suárez.
After a scramble in the box, the ball is heading toward the back of Uruguay’s net. Suárez is the last line of the defense, having already blocked a shot off the goal line, but what he did next would make him the most hated man of the tournament. He stopped the ball from going in with what is now referred to as the “Second Hand of God.” He was sent off, but Asamoah Gyan missed the ensuing penalty and the score remained even until the final whistle. Uruguay went through on penalties.
It wasn’t his first misdemeanor—he bloodied a referee’s nose as a teenager—but the most high-profile one up to that point. Later that year, he would bite Otman Bakkal, and then-club Ajax subsequently shipped him off to Liverpool.
The Uruguayan arrived in England with a reputation as a cheater, but after taking some time to acclimate, he soon showed that there was more to his game than the so-called dark arts. The forward quickly established himself as arguably the best player in the Premier League, and he even transformed the Reds into unlikely title contenders in 2013/14, receiving Player of the Year honors. A skillful striker with a ferocious, insatiable appetite for goals, but one who also takes pleasure in setting up teammates, Suárez is one of the best players of this generation.
His stint in England wasn’t without controversy. In late 2011, he was banned for eight games after racially abusing Patrice Evra; two years later, he bit Branislav Ivanovic and served another lengthy suspension. He again sunk his teeth into an opponent’s flesh at the 2014 World Cup, biting Giorgio Chiellini. Liverpool cashed in on him the following month.
Understanding the Madness
At Barcelona, Suárez won everything there is to win, and now, in the twilight stage of his career, he has joined Atlético Madrid. To understand him you have to realize where he came from. This is a man who grew up poverty-stricken in Montevideo. The love of his life moved to Europe when he was a teenager and it left him heartbroken, but it also fueled his ambition to make it in football so that the two could eventually be reunited. He had to bite and claw (literally) his way to the top.
In many ways, his actions on the pitch are a reflection of the struggle off it. He understands how hard life in poverty is and he is afraid of losing what he has achieved, so he seeks to gain a competitive advantage by any means necessary.
Suárez is an accomplished player; one who can score from the halfway line or with a backheel, but also one who struggles to fight his demons. He is a complex character and proof that footballers are more than just mindless goal machines.
Illustration by @inakivector.
This story was featured in one of our newsletters.