With Luis Suárez, Messi may not even be the best player on his own team

By | April 4, 2024

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He is 37, has a visible abdomen and suffers from chronic knee pain that requires regular injections. But the old Luis Suárez still looks a lot like the Luis Suárez of old.

Since teaming up with former Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi at Inter Miami, Suárez has scored seven goals and provided five assists in 10 games in the MLS and Concacaf Champions Cup. He has already shown that he still has a wide and devastating arsenal of scoring techniques: there was a header against New York City FC, a blistering solo effort against Orlando City, a deft left-footed chip against DC United and a few tap-ins -ins were plundered thanks to crafty moves from the penalty area.

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The Uruguayan did not really get off the ground in Miami. A pair of sluggish, goalless displays in his first two games for Inter drew criticism, with many observers wondering whether the club, co-owned by David Beckham, had made a mistake in signing a player of Suárez’s age and injury history.

But such doubts were quickly eradicated. In his third appearance, Suárez produced a vintage performance to inspire Miami to the biggest win in the club’s short history as they defeated Orlando City 5–0. He scored twice in the opening 11 minutes at Chase Stadium and set up two brutally clinical finishes. And he could easily have scored a hat-trick within half an hour, but through the goal he chose to unselfishly square the ball for Robert Taylor to score.

A second assist from Suárez arrived in the 62nd minute and it was the clearest sign yet of how the veteran striker’s technical mastery remains fully intact as he measured a sumptuous cross outside the boot from the right flank straight to Messi’s head . .

“I’m very happy for him that he was able to score,” Messi said of Suárez’s performance in the Florida derby. “We were still calm. We know what Luis is and what he is capable of and everyone knows it. That’s how he is. When you least expect it, he solves a game for you, like he did today, with the goals and the assists.”

Suárez was voted Brazil’s best player last year after scoring 26 goals and 17 assists for Grêmio, including a hat-trick on his debut. If his form holds up, he could be in contention for similar accolades in the US. And the key to his continued effectiveness, it seems, is the acceptance – from player and club – that he must choose his place.

There are long moments of inactivity during matches where Suárez plods through the center of the pitch, sometimes with a noticeable limp. Then he suddenly springs into decisive action in the attacking third of the pitch – a flash of pace to evade a defender; a quick one-two bursting into the penalty area; a grating finish from an impossible angle.

He will also not be asked to start every match, with Inter manager Tata Martino giving him a rest amid a hectic schedule.

“One of the coach’s tasks is to convince the players when to stop, when to give themselves a break,” Martino said after Suárez came off the bench to score twice, leading to a 3-1 win over DC United in March. “Luis had played the previous match; he understood that it was a good opportunity to come in as a refresher.

“With Luis this is a similar situation as with Leo [Messi]Busi [Sergio Busquets]Jordy [Alba]. It’s something he’s done his entire career. We agreed that he would have half an hour and he decided the game for us. For us he is a fundamental actor.”

He has also played a crucial role in guiding the Herons through a recent injury crisis. Not only has Messi missed games with a hamstring injury, but key midfielder Federico Redondo has also been forced to sit on the sidelines along with a number of others.

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Inter have struggled without Messi, a period marked by a 4-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls. But without Suárez, Miami’s results could have been much worse – from his aforementioned winning cameo against DC United to scoring again in last weekend’s 1-1 draw against New York City FC. “[Messi is] a player who makes the difference, we know that,” Suárez said this week. “If he is there, we will enjoy it more. But we have a big team and we have a lot of very good players who can replace the others.”

Messi is the reigning winner of the Fifa Best award, but there is now a reasonable debate to be had about whether he is his own team’s best player this season.

Fortunately, Inter Miami don’t have to choose between Messi and Suárez: they have both – except for a potentially difficult period in June and July, when the pair will be on international mission during the Copa América. And with them, Inter have every chance to add to the Leagues Cup they won last year, as they look to retain that title while chasing the Supporters’ Shield, the MLS Cup and the Concacaf Champions Cup.

“The best word we must have as players is to dream: to dream big,” Suárez said at a press conference to officially unveil him as an Inter Miami player ahead of the 2024 season. “To dream is to want to win. Why not dream of winning the four titles?”

It’s been nine years since Suárez – alongside Messi and Neymar – spearheaded Barcelona’s own domestic and continental clean sweep in 2015. His ambition seems as great as ever. His ability to be a goal scorer or a change-of-play creator hasn’t changed that much either.

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