Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez’s suspensions and other troubles in English soccer may have helped him to develop into one of the sport’s most coveted players, according to his national team coach.
The 27-year-old is playing his best season with Liverpool, scoring goals and making assists that could propel the 18-time English champion back into European soccer’s elite Champions League competition for the first time since 2010. He missed the start of the campaign as he completed a 10-game suspension for biting an opponent last season. He’s also served a ban for racially abusing a rival and courted controversy by trying to engineer a move away from the Reds in the off-season.
Suarez is likely to be Uruguay’s main threat at this year’s World Cup in Brazil, and will come up against England in the team’s second tournament match on June 19.
“He’s come up through the under-20s team and we introduced him to the senior Uruguay team in 2008,” Uruguay manager Oscar Washington Tabarez told reporters in Florianopolis, Brazil. “Since then he’s evolved a lot, both in terms of his game and also in terms of his competitive attitude. It’s perhaps because of the problems he’s had in England.”
Suarez has formed one of the best attacks in the Premier League with Daniel Sturridge as Liverpool has kept up with the league’s top teams. The Reds are in fourth place, four points behind league leader Chelsea.
In August, Suarez said he wanted to leave the team, saying he wanted to play Champions League soccer. That prompted a backlash from some former players and Liverpool fans who chided the Uruguayan for betraying the team after it stood by him during his troubled times.
He bit Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in the closing minutes of a Premier League game last April. That came 18 months after he used racist language toward Manchester United’s black defender Patrice Evra, incurring an eight-match ban.
Since his return to action in September, Suarez has once again become a fan favorite at Liverpool, and signed a new contract in December.
Tabarez said that even amid Suarez’s importance to his team, he won’t put any extra demands on the forward.
“For us he’s very important,” said Tabarez, whose team also plays Costa Rica and Italy in the group stage at the World Cup. “But he doesn’t have any special responsibilities. It’s up to us to form a good team. No one has any special responsibilities.”
Uruguay shocked Brazil in the decisive game when the tournament was last held there in 1950, delivering a 2-1 defeat that remains a cause for national heartache. The country, among the smallest in South America with a population of 3 million, has continued causing surprises.
A two-time World Cup winner, it reached the semifinals at the last tournament in South Africa, after helping eliminate the hosts in the first round by beating them 3-0. Tabarez likened the team to party-poopers.
“There is a biography about the Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti, now deceased, titled the Killjoy because people always invited him to events and the things he said spoiled their party,” Tabarez said. “We are the killjoys. In South Africa, we beat the hosts 3-0 and they became the first World Cup organizers in history to be eliminated in the first round. We then beat the last representatives of Africa, Ghana, to reach the semifinals. Also, we went to Argentina and we won our 15th Copa America. We had been tied with Argentina with 14 titles.”