On Wednesday, Carles Puyol, recently retired centre-back and new assistant sporting director, became the latest senior Camp Nou figure to speak in glowing terms of the still Liverpool player.
“Luis Suarez is a great forward,” Puyol said. “I’ve played against him and he’s very difficult to mark. We’ll see what happens.”
There are still a few remaining details to iron out, with well-connected Catalan paper Mundo Deportivo reporting yesterday that Barca have baulked at Liverpool’s €88 million asking price. But this all seemed more like the usual PR spin and public haggling over the fee, and everyone in Catalonia expects the deal to be done soon. This would bring a quick end to a campaign managed carefully by Barca, Suarez’s agents and Liverpool — who seemed keen to avoid another energy sapping transfer saga.
Even Suarez biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup was only a temporary setback. This week Barca figures have been praising his late-issued apology, in a clear attempt to persuade Fifa to ease the still intact four-month ban from all footballing activity.
So the Catalan club have put a lot of thought and effort into getting the transfer done quickly and smoothly, and also in managing the fallout from the Chiellini bite. But there is little to suggest anyone has thought too deeply about how Suarez is going to fit into a Barca XI alongside fellow individualist attackers Lionel Messi and Neymar.
Leaks from club directors say signing Suarez was a personal request from incoming coach Luis Enrique, who wants to add more aggression and dynamism to his front line. The idea is less patient build-up in midfield, and more direct attacking movement. Suarez is certainly aggressive and dynamic, but team-building is rarely so straightforward, especially with such personalities involved.
Neymar arrived last summer speaking loudly and often of his respect for his new teammate. “Leo Messi is the best player in the world,” the then 21-year-old said at his unveiling. “I am so lucky to play alongside him.”
Neymar spent his first few months at Barca ostentatiously passing the ball to Messi rather than go for goal himself. But pundits were soon pointing out how rarely the two players interacted on the pitch. The Brazil star’s exploits at the current World Cup will surely lessen his appetite for a ‘provider’ role next season.
Now a third South American attacker accustomed to being ‘the’ main man for both club and country is arriving. For Liverpool and Uruguay, Suarez’s best moments have been off the cuff genius which neither opponents nor teammates expected. Messi was at his best under Pep Guardiola, when the team was designed specifically so he could finish off team moves. Given how the transfer has been managed so far, Suarez may himself speak gushingly about Messi at his presentation in the coming days. But once his suspension ends, the 27-year-old is unlikely to see his main job being unselfish Pedro Rodriguez-style runs off the ball. Or to meekly accept Messi’s derisive looks if he shoots wide when the Argentinian is expecting a pass.
Other big name attackers — from Samuel Eto’o to Zlatan Ibrahimovic to David Villa — have all eventually been seen as incompatible with Messi, while the Neymar ‘experiment’ has yet to be proven either way.
Signing Suarez — even if we believe he will never bite again — seems to be asking for trouble.