Suarez embodies Barca conquest
BARCELONA — This one was for Johan Cruyff Cruyff.
On the day his life was celebrated at the Camp Nou, after a brutally untimely and unfairly early death, the occasion was too much for Barcelona’s players.
The resistance of rivals Real Madrid, the same team that chased the Catalans right down to the last few minutes of La Liga, the exhaustion of the FIFA virus and the emotion of the moment made April’s Clasico a moment to celebrate the impact of a man Cruyff wanted to sign for Bar Barcelona but couldn’t: Zinedine Zidane.
The Zidane effect galvanised Los Blancos. Anyone with an appreciation for combative elegance will hope that effect doesn’t just continue but blossoms.
But compare that to the Cruyff effect. As Gerard Pique went off the Nuevo Los Carmenes pitch having helped steer his club through to the title on Saturday, the Barce- lona centre-back said: “We’ve“We’v won six out of the last eight titles, I think t that’s incredible”.
And it is. Particularly in context of how Barcelona, prior to Cruyff’s arrival as manager in 1988, didn’t really make a habit of being Spanish Champions. They were title winners twice between 1960196 and 1991, but after Cruyff took over, BarcaBar have won 14 league crowns.
So, there’s a natural fit thatt in the year of his death, having flopped the audition to honour him properly last month,m Barcelona should have the class, the m muscle, the determination and the sheer cha champion’s mentality to ensure that they weren’tweren humiliated on the last day.
And there is a further lin link. You can’t ascribe a trophy that Andres IniestaIn called “the big title” to one person alone.alon That would be ludicrous. But if there has to be an emblem of this Liga victory, it is of cou course Luis Suarez.
He’s scored more times for Barcelona in slightly more than a season and a half than he did in three-and-a-half years at Liverpool. Now he’s won the Spanishpichichi and the European Golden Boot. Now he’s the guy who saw them throughth thick and thin, either with great goalsg or scrappy goals or the odd penalty or a flurry of assists — the most of any playerp in La Liga and the most of his career career. The link, of course, is A Ajax. Part of Barcelona’s problemspro this year in not winning the title morem handsomely is that this was the season in which FIFA’S punishment for rule breachesbrea regarding signing juvenile players camecam home to roost.
Had it not been for Barcelona’sBarc inability to restock as they’d have wished,wi either last summer or in the winter market,m then it’s not only feasible, but likely,likely that this group would have retained the ChampionsCh League and become the first in historyhis to win the double treble.
Punishments are there t to warn and dissuade — and to punish. So perhaps there’s little for the Camp Nou clubc to complain about. They were guilty of the offences, it’s for others to say whether the punishment fits the crime.
But they just ran out of juicej a little bit, and their roll-of-the-dice signingss of Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan hav haven’t paid significant dividends. At least not yet.
For one reason or anotheranothe — daily work, tactical instructions, how quickly the ball must be moved, the player hierarchy, positional sense, timekeeping plusplu a host of other little details — the two men haven’t hit the ground running after sacrificingsacrifi a handful of months in dry dock. Signed for Barcelona in the summer, but unable to play until January.
Suarez, remember, was different.di When he returned to playing for BarcelonaBar after his long ban, he had to find matc match sharpness and shed a kilo or so.
But with even less time in training than Vidal and Turan benefittedbenefitte from, Suarez became utterly vital to the teamt last season and an absolute key compon component in their treble.
So this season’s improvementimprovem — better fitness, better goal totals, moremo assists, more of an ability to step up on daysd when Lionel Messi or Neymar were eithereith absent or off form — matches how each of his transfers have seen him move up in termst of the size of club and the pressure he faced, as well as his ability to react to those stepss up with improvements in his g game. While his movemo to Barcelona should have been his most testing, he’sh been superb partly becauseb of what he learnedlearn in the club that CruyffCr made great: Ajax.
Sua Suarez’s understand standing of technique, positi position, tactics, work rate, teamwork — all of it wasw honed in the Amster Amsterdam school of football. That’s helped him not onlyo understand but dominatedomina the play at Barcelona Barcelona. And there’s still more about the Uruguayan that helps map this season that has already yielded three major trophies for Barca with the Copa del Rey final to come on Sunday.
That ban he incurred for biting Giorgio Chiellini in the last World Cup meant he went nearly two years without playing for Uruguay until being restored to the squad in March. Painful though that was for him, the benefits were also gigantic.
A little break, mentally and physically, every few months with no extra injury pressures, fewer jet-lag-inducing transatlantic flights and some alone time with manager Luis Enrique — they’re all tiny windows of opportunity that he’s used to remain unbelievable effective.
When did Barcelona’s mini-stumble begin to allow Atletico Madrid and Real into the fight? To allow this title race to suddenly become so tense? Immediately after Suarez’s first competitive matches in South America during a FIFA break since the summer of 2014.
What did it cost him? Having scored 12 goals in his previous 11 matches, he missed an open goal against Madrid in that Clasico and then failed to score against them, Real Sociedad, Valencia or Atletico in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg.
There was correlation between the reintroduction of tough, long-distance travel, the pressures of international football and Suarez’s sudden loss of goal-scoring form.
But as soon as he’d regained freshness and sharpness, there were 14 goals in five matches and the title was in the bag.
He’s playing in a Barcelona side that needs new blood, new eagerness and new hunger. The equivalent of what happened in the summer of 2008, with the arrival of Dani Alves, Gerard Pique and Seydou Keita, plus the promotion of Sergio Bouquets and Pedro.
Or the summer of 2014, when Claudio Bravo, Suarez, Marc-andre ter Stegen, Ivan Rakitic, Rafinha and Jeremy Mathieu made such a vast impact.
A title remains for Barcelona, if they can win in the Copa final on Sunday. A haul of European Supercup, Club World Cup, Spanish Primera champions and Copa del Rey kings would be impressive.
But a measure of this group’s greatness is that they’ll always believe they should have won the double treble.
Madrid’s season, meanwhile, can be marked by a handful of very straightforward events. The first was the appointment of Rafa Benitez. A talented coach, appointed at the club he loves, and a hard worker. He was never the right appointment, partly because Madrid was wrong for him, not only vice-versa.
Perhaps if that appointment hadn’t been forced upon a squad that wanted Carlo Ancelotti to be retained, then Los Blancos might have been champions. Having missed out on the title by the breadth of one decent result, it underlines that several instances of dropped points — drawing 0-0 with Sporting Gijon or Malaga, losing after having led at Sevilla, drawing after having led at Atletico — could have and should have been wins that would have given Madrid the title by a point.
It’s a judgement on Madrid’s ethos and benign dictatorship that Benitez felt forced (or perhaps felt safer in his job) to field the defensively inept Danilo and bench the hard-nosed Casemiro.
Both decisions played a huge part in November’s 4-0 Clasico thrashing that helped guide the title to Barcelona.
Madrid’s great gain from this season is the knowledge that while Zidane still has much to prove in terms of strategy and tactics, this being so early in his senior management career, there is a guy who still carries huge impact on his players and who has put his club in a position to salvage something from the wreckage in a fortnight’s time at the San Siro.
Another vital key for Madrid to take from their close-but-no-cigar season is that they must find a way to keep their three-jewelled crown, the so-called BBC, fitter more often. Bale, prolific in the last third of the season, started 21 league matches.
Benzema, just as Benitez demanded, has produced the best league scoring form of his life. But he started just 26 times in La Liga.
And finally for the runners-up, when your keeper, Keylor Navas, is your player of the season (which he most certainly is, no matter Ronaldo’s fabulous scoring performance) then there’s a problem.
It’s a problem of controlling possession, a problem of how well the midfield shields the defence, a problem of the age and injury records of the central defenders and a problem of Danilo’s defensive ineptitude.
So there is fun to come in Milan in a fortnight, but lots of work to do to turn a valiant failure into success next season. — ESPN
Barcelona forward luis Suarez