For Barcelona, selling their only elite striker and third-highest goalscorer of all time was never going to end well. Especially not when they let him go almost for free and to one of their biggest and most dangerous rivals. Atletico Madrid have been on top of the world since Luis Suarez arrived at the club. Barcelona however, have subsequently been treading in muddy waters.
The Uruguayan has been banging in the goals for fun with Los Colchoneros since the beginning of the 2020-21 season. With 16 strikes, he is the joint top scorer in La Liga alongside his great friend and former teammate Lionel Messi. The former, however, is seeing much better days with his new club than his Argentine contemporary.
Barcelona have been in a state of heavy transition since a devastating end to their 2019-20 season. A campaign that was followed by the materialization of the gross mismanagement the club was under in the years prior. Ronald Koeman was appointed as the new coach and the club offloaded a host of players in order to ‘rebuild’.
However, the vote of no confidence which was passed later, saw Josep Maria Bartomeu and his board of directors resign from the presidency. Since then, the Catalans have had a very topsy-turvy campaign. One of the players who the club let go of was of course Luis Suarez. And the shambolic manner in which he was treated is no secret anymore, as he was asked to leave rather unceremoniously.
Granted that the Uruguayan wasn’t at his best level in his final few seasons with the Catalans. However, he was still a fairly reliable source of goals up top. And his relative lack of goals and form was hardly all his own doing. The team was in shambles all across the pitch. Barcelona cast him away and even reportedly threatened to terminate his contract.
A player like Suarez who created some wonderful memories at Barça and helped them to so many titles deserved a hero’s farewell as Leo Messi said. Instead, he was sentenced to a cruel exile.
“You deserved a farewell befitting who you are: one of the most important players in the history of the club, achieving great things for the team and on an individual level. You did not deserve for them to throw you out as they did. But the truth is that at this stage nothing surprises me anymore.”Lionel Messi speaking about Suarez’s departure
But the real victims of the punishment were Barcelona themselves. Suarez and Atletico Madrid have mutually benefited from the transfer massively while Barcelona largely continue to struggle without a proven striker among their ranks.
As of now, despite their loss to Levante, Atleti are leading the pack in La Liga by three points and have a game in hand. Barcelona meanwhile, have slipped to third after the draw against Cadiz. And throughout the season, Suarez seems to be subtly sending his former club a message as to what they are missing out on. His 16 goals are largely impressive on their own, but Diego Simeone’s men have also been playing some fantastic football since the 34-year-old arrived.
Suarez’s goal conversion rate is 31%, which is miles better than even Lionel Messi who sits on 18%. El Pistolero has scored his 16 goals from just 52 shots compared to Messi’s 91. Not only that, but Suarez also has the best goals-per-90 ratio in the entire league, averaging 0.93 goals per game (via BBC Sport).
After his brace against Celta Vigo Suarez became the first player to score 16 goals in his first 17 games for a team in the Spanish top flight, in the 21st century. A ridiculous record for a striker who was considered ‘past it’. He has undoubtedly been one of the best if not the best La Liga signing of the season. And now, Atletico are in prime position to clinch the league title, while Barcelona stare down the barrel of another trophyless campaign.
The last time Barcelona and Los Rojiblancos faced off, Atletico won even without Suarez who missed out since he tested positive for COVID-19. However, if he plays in the next encounter between the two teams, he will be motivated to fully rub the salt into his former club’s wounds. And perhaps they deserve it.
A significant week in Barcelona for Lionel Messi’s future
It is a topic that gets the football world giddy. The fantasies of Lionel Messi playing in the Premier League, the formation of another star-studded front three alongside Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappe, and for the romantics, a return to Argentina is set in their hearts.
After the infamous events of the summer of 2020, now more than ever, the biggest legend of FC Barcelona looks closer than ever to leaving.
Many Barça fans feel that it could be a good thing that the six-time Ballon D’or winner leaves, bringing up the point that the Catalan side needs a hard restart next season and the idea of building a team around a 33-year-old does not seem logical, as it only benefits the near future.
This is a valid point and most likely comes from those who want not only the best for Barca but Messi as well, as Cúlers are not ignorant to the fact that the club cannot promise their beloved number ten the fifth Champions League trophy he craves in its current situation.
However, in an ideal world, Barça fans would want Messi to stay and win his fifth European Cup wearing Blaugrana and if that is to happen, the week that went by is the only decider on course for the club and player alike.
The Copa Del Rey comeback
In the interview with Jordi Évole on LaSexta last December, Lionel Messi stated that he “wanted to keep competing to win trophies.”
Two weeks ago, that desire for this season looked unlikely. Atletico Madrid had a sizeable lead over the Catalans in La Liga, Paris Saint-Germain built up a 1-4 lead in the Champions League, and Sevilla had a 2-0 advantage in the Copa del Rey.
The first of these tasks was addressed on Wednesday night, in what turned out to be a memorable night in the history of FC Barcelona. A 94th minute Gerard Pique header sent Barça into extra time, where Martin Braithwaite completed the comeback to send the Catalans through to the final 3-2 on aggregate.
The chance to win another trophy would no doubt have pleased Messi but it is the story of the match that will help keep the Argentine at the club next season.
If Messi stopped and looked around the Camp Nou on Wednesday night, he would have seen determination and heart from his teammates to keep going to the final whistle, an abundance of youthful talent performing at a level beyond their years, and world-class players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen ready to step up when certain challenges emerged.
Throughout one night, all these combined into a sort of presentation to the Argentine, exhibiting the future of FC Barcelona and where the team is headed.
There is no denying that the gap between Barcelona and Europe’s elite is still large, but this performance showed the signs Messi has called for and that is something that can be noted down for the future.
The perfect Liga weekend
Looking ahead to the weekend, the second of Barcelona’s comeback missions received an encouraging boost.
The Catalan side were looking to go 16 games unbeaten in La Liga in a match against twelfth place Osasuna and a win would not only see them extend this run but close the gap on Atletico Madrid to just two points, albeit with two games in hand.
The importance of this weekend lied in Atletico’s game as they face city rivals Real Madrid. In an ideal world, Barça fans would hope that the spoils are shared in El Derbi allowing the Blaugrana side to gain points on both Madrid clubs.
Barcelona’s prayers were catered to, and not only did the Catalan giants pick up three ugly, yet important points from their encounter against Osasuna, the capital outfits had to settle for a draw. Playing the angel’s advocate, even if Atleti had come away with the three points, it would essentially narrow the title race to just two teams considering Los Colchoneros gap at the top.
From Lionel Messi’s point of view, winning the La Liga title from the position Barça found themselves in a few weeks back would be a huge encouragement to stay for another season, especially if it is accompanied by the Copa del Rey. The Argentine has been part of teams that let leads slip over the last three seasons and to flip the script on that, would ultimately show progress.
The Presidential election
The final act of the week was the 2021 Presidential Election, where the next president of FC Barcelona was chosen on Sunday night. Joan Laporta, Victor Font, and Toni Freixa were the three candidates fighting for Barça’s top spot, and all have addressed the situation of Lionel Messi throughout their campaigns.
Joan Laporta had emerged as the favourite for a second spell, and like everyone suspected, the Spaniard swayed the elections, coming on top as the winner. Ideally, it would have a significant impact on the future of La Pulga, as Messi showed up to vote for the elections for the first time in his life. In fact, Laporta went on to claim that Leo congratulated him on the night. His renewal will be one of the many hurdles Laporta will have to jump over.
Throughout the presidential campaign, it has been rumoured that Messi will not stay if Joan Laporta does not win. Laporta himself fuelled these rumours on Tuesday during the last of the Presidential debates.
The Spaniard stated, “If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona”.
“If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona. “Messi will weigh up the offer we make him. I’m convinced that if the other candidates win, Messi will not remain at Barcelona. He wasn’t happy during Freixa’s time on the board.”Joan Laporta in the presidential debate
If these feelings are believed to be true, the future of Lionel Messi could take a dramatic twist on Sunday.
Having said all this, Lionel Messi’s future could come down to one simple desire, to win a fifth European Cup. At 33 years old, the Argentine does not have time on his side in this pursuit, and it could be years before Barcelona can compete for Europe’s top prize again.
With ready-made teams such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain waiting on the side-lines, the final decision in June could come down to this week — if this week does not make it for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, there is little chance anything else will.