“At Manchester United, the year we won the Champions League, I didn’t speak with Paul Scholes, [Ryan] Giggs or [Rio] Ferdinand,” Ronaldo said. “I don’t need to go for supper with [Karim] Benzema, or invite [Gareth] Bale over to my house. Little kisses or little hugs off the field are worthless. The important thing is the team wins on the pitch.”
Ronaldo was also annoyed by a question about the ‘pass penalty’ played by Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez the previous weekend against Celta Vigo. “I know why he did it, but I’m not going to tell you…” the Portuguese replied enigmatically.
Most observers surmised he was suggesting the idea was for Suarez to score so he could move ahead of Ronaldo in Spain’s ‘pichichi’ top scorers race.
The theory would make more sense if Suarez just took the penalty itself, but it did feed the idea that Barca’s front three, including Neymar, are happy to help each other out. While the relationship between Madrid’s ‘BBC’ strike trio is strictly professional.
This is a pretty new development at the Camp Nou, where through recent years stars stars as Thierry Henry, David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have struggled to build a relationship with the not over-sociable Messi. Neymar was also inhibited during his first season at the Catalan club.
Suarez’s summer 2014 arrival changed all that. Even before his Barca debut, the former Liverpool player was being invited to barbecues in Messi’s garden. The pair also bonded playing traditional kids’ board game ‘parchis’, along with Argentina international Javier Mascherano, on away trips.
Suarez’s wife Sofia and Messi’s partner Antonella also quickly became friends. When Messi was injured earlier this season, his neighbour in the leafy Castelldefels suburb gave him a lift to training.
Neymar is not really one for board games, but also seems to enjoy his teammate’s infectious personality. “[Neymar] is a very happy person, he laughs at everything,” Suarez said recently. “I enjoy being with him, although he doesn’t like anyone to touch his hair. He laughs about the burgers we eat — tells me I’m fat.”
It is hard to imagine Bale ruffling Ronaldo’s hair, or anyone telling the Portuguese he’s looking a bit chubby.
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone, another South American who knows a lot about building unbreakable team spirit, feels Suarez is key to the happiness in the Barca camp. “The arrival of Suarez has strengthened the whole system,” Simeone said last month. “There’s no envy among the trio, there are usually jealousies, egos, but it’s just the opposite.”
Suarez’s on-pitch contribution has also been huge — and is getting huger. He scored one goal and made the other in Saturday’s hard fought 2-1 La Liga win at Las Palmas. That brought him to 41 goals in all competitions already this season — including 25 in La Liga, and 15 in his last nine appearances. He also has 15 assists, most of these for either Messi or Neymar.
Ronaldo was of course correct about results being all important — and his screamer in Madrid’s 2-0 win at Roma last Wednesday set them on their way to the Champions League quarter-finals again.
But yesterday he had mixed fortunes, scoring from open play but missing a penalty as Real were held 1-1 at Malaga.
Barca are now 32 games unbeaten in all competitions, and well placed to repeat last season’s treble. Next for them is this week’s Champions League last 16 first leg at Arsenal, a team Suarez almost decided to join the summer before he moved to Barca.
Suarez also scored five times in five visits to the Emirates while at Liverpool. The odds are pretty high on him, and his two close friends, smiling again on Tuesday night.