Barcelona and the club’s fans around the world can thank a rather unsavory incident for their recent La Liga title. Sure, it happened long ago and it may seem wrong to dig up old dirt during such a celebratory time, but the incident's relevance is more current than ever.
During the 2014 World Cup, Luis Suárez infamously bit Giorgio Chiellini, and that single event was a key factor in Barcelona’s securing of the La Liga title in the two consecutive seasons that followed.
Suárez’s third bite in his professional career led to a four-month ban from all football activities. Beyond simply not being allowed to play professionally, he was also banned from participating in events related to the sport. His former club, Liverpool, was forced to host their annual kit reveal in a public park rather than Anfield so that Suarez could attend without breaking his punishment.
In previous years, Liverpool had dutifully stood by the side of their beloved Uruguayan star amidst other scandals. There was an incident involving Patrice Evra where Suárez was accused of racism, and he had also been charged with violent conduct for chomping on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic. To onlookers, it seemed that Suarez could commit no wrong serious enough to become a stench to the club.
Then came that infamous bite during the World Cup. Those few seconds of misconduct occurred on the world stage. Suddenly, Suárez was the subject of the world’s anger. Media outlets that did not usually cover sports flashed his name across the screen while anchors wagged their fingers and shook their heads. FIFA, having been thoroughly embarrassed in front of countless potential soccer fans and, most importantly, sponsors, came down hard on the Uruguayan striker.
Of course, only those actually involved in negotiations know for sure, but it seems reasonable to believe that the bad publicity made Liverpool’s decision to finally let their golden boy go just a trifle easier.
However, the bite helped Suárez get to Barcelona and still plays a huge factor in the reasons why he excelled as a player.
El Pistolero was still serving out the length of his suspension when he signed to Barcelona. Hence, he couldn’t play in matches, and he couldn’t train with the senior squad for several months. When Suárez was finally able to train day in and day out with his teammates, he had much to prove. As with any player new to a club, he had to earn the trust of his coach and the respect of his teammates. In addition to these normal stresses, Suarez had to prove to the world that he was not a villain.
While Suárez was being punished by FIFA, Barcelona was also being disciplined by soccer’s governing body. After being found guilty of straying from the rule of signing youth players, FIFA slammed Barcelona with a lengthy transfer ban. Since the club could not sign any new talent, the existing resources had to be exhausted.
Fortunately, Suárez’s suspension ended right when some of the club’s stalwarts were slowing down due to being overworked. Suárez, with his goal scoring prowess, reinvigorated the club during a time when they could have faltered. He scored goals at crucial moments, proved to be a key puzzle piece in connecting the skills of Messi and Neymar, and gave the whole team added motivation.
In addition to being an initial boost to the club, the circumstances of Suárez’s suspension have also made him more refreshed after international breaks. Since Suarez was forcibly unavailable for the Uruguay squad for many months, the lineup had to be revised.
Although the Uruguayan national team did not altogether abandon Suárez, it took longer than the length of his suspension for him to get back in the rotation of the lineup. While this waiting period must have been undoubtedly frustrating for the striker, the lack of call-ups left him more refreshed, unlike his counterparts who are pillars of their respective national teams, after international breaks.
Since Suárez has been forced to play less during these past two years, he has been able to pick up the slack for his teammates who have been forced to play, perhaps, too much for their own good.
As a testament to his value, Suárez has won the Golden Boot and the Pichichi as well as making the most assists in La Liga this season. Without Suarez’s crucial presence, Barcelona might have been knocked out of the running for more than the Champions League.
By Marissa Blackman, columnist at Barcablog.