Barcelona (AFP) – In little under two years with Barcelona, Luis Suarez has won six trophies, silenced his critics with almost impeccable on-field behaviour and now, most remarkably of all, left Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in his shadow.
Suarez fittingly scored a hat-trick as Barca retained their La Liga title on Saturday with a 3-0 win at Granada to take his tally for the season to a remarkable 59 allied to 26 assists.
Of those 59, 40 came in La Liga, making him the first man to depose Messi and Ronaldo and win the Pichichi award for Spain’s top scorer in seven years.
Moreover, it is the most prolific season anyone other than Messi and Ronaldo has produced in the history of the Spanish top flight.
The Pichichi and golden boot for Europe’s top goalscorer are individual awards where all that matters are the numbers and Suarez can’t be discredited.
He was sidelined as Neymar joined Messi and Ronaldo in FIFA’s top three at the Ballon d’Or to crown the world’s best player despite playing a pivotal role in turning Barca from trophyless in 2013/14 to treble winners a season later.
The controversy and stigma of having bitten an opponent three times in his career continues to cost the Uruguayan in the popularity stakes.
However, in his first full season without a prolonged suspension in three years, Suarez has shown his devastating potential to leave Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar trailing in his wake.
Barca’s title run was built once more around the thrilling talents of the South American ‘MSN’ triumvirate.
Yet, of the three, Suarez was the most consistent. The team’s form replicated his in front of goal, he starred in the most glorious parts of the campaign and, most tellingly, made the difference when they most needed him.
– ‘Key man’ –
When Messi was absent for two months due to knee ligament damage early in the season, Suarez scored 12 times in 10 games, including twice as Barca embarrassed Real Madrid 4-0 away from home.
Suarez also scored the winner as Barca beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 to open up a gap at the top in January and most memorably slotted home Messi’s pass from the penalty spot to complete a hat-trick in the 6-1 rout of Celta Vigo in February.
“Suarez is a key man for us for his goalscoring capability, but also for his hard work and character,” said Barca boss Luis Enrique recently.
That character shone through in the final weeks of the season as Suarez lifted Barca out of an alarming April slump.
Suarez failed to find the net in any of Barca’s three consecutive La Liga defeats for the first time in 13 years last month.
Yet, he responded with 14 in the last five games for the five wins Barca needed to hold off a late-season surge by Real.
“If we don’t finish champions I don’t care about the Pichichi,” he said earlier this week.
“That’s what happened at Liverpool, we came close to winning the Premier League, and finishing top scorer meant nothing to me because we didn’t win the league.”
Two years on from the pain of missing out on the Premier League and being expelled from the World Cup for an infamous bite on Giorgio Chiellini, Suarez’s redemption story continues with another trophy to show why he forced through a move to Barca.
Moreover, he has the personal pride of leaving Ronaldo and Messi below him on the podium for the Pichichi they have made a personal duel for the past six years.
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