How will the World Cup remember Luis Suarez? Uruguay striker's legacy will be defined in Qatar
We're probably not supposed to post this on one of the most influential football journalism sites on the internet, but the truth is it doesn't matter what we write here about Luis Suarez.
Not that it won't be interesting. Not that it won't be true. Not that the Uruguay star isn't more than deserving of a nice article as he passes the torch to the next generation in his final World Cup.
It's just, you already have decided what you think about Luis Suarez. You either think the forward is a hero, pointing to the dozens of goals he scored for Ajax, for Liverpool, for Barcelona and for his country, seven of which have come on the international game's grandest stage.
Or, you see him as the villain, recalling all the times he's gotten in hot water at the World Cup, whether it was the handball on the goal-line in 2010 against Ghana, the bite on Italy's Giorgio Chiellini in 2014 (or the other ones at club level), the faked head injuries in 2018 against Portugal – or whatever shenanigans he inevitably gets caught up in at Qatar 2022.
So, which is he? The brilliant scorer? The shameless instigator? Something in between?
"You'd like to be remembered more than anything as Uruguayan, the legacy left in the national team, for the history, for everything I did with the national team," Suarez told ESPN Brazil last year.
"At the world level, I have the fortune of being known for my track record, but the national team legacy is what makes me the most proud."
That legacy could be defined – or perhaps re-defined – in Qatar.
It's possible the controversy now is more about Suarez even being on the field for Uruguay. In their opening game, a dismal 0-0 draw with South Korea, the No.9 didn't manage a single shot and had just two touches in the opposition box.
There is some debate, then, over whether he should retain his starting spot in Monday's massive showdown with Portugal. Might Uruguay be about to drop a national hero who helped them get make it to the 2022 World Cup.
La Celeste, remember, nearly missed out on this tournament after a poor start to qualification, but bidding farewell to beloved manager Oscar Tabarez after more than 15 years of El Maestro's teachings gave the team a chance at a fresh start.
New manager Diego Alonso seized that opportunity, leading Uruguay to close out CONMEBOL qualification with four matches undefeated with this year’s only loss coming in a September friendly against Iran.
But Alonso didn't kick veterans like Suarez to the curb. Instead, he leaned on them with Suarez scoring in three of the last four qualifiers as he finished second in CONMEBOL in scoring this cycle.
"He always gives me a feeling of security, of having a person who the first day I sat to chat with him he told me, 'Diego, I want to play, but if I have to be a sub I’ll be the number one fan of my team-mates, of the national team and of you,' Alonso said at a news conference this spring.
"That speaks about what Luis Suarez means."
The national team is certainly his happy place. Look at the photo he posted just this week, throwing his head back in laughter while stretching at a Uruguayan training camp awash in the Middle Eastern sun.
But for something that is such a priority, his preparation for this tournament was disastrous.
Pushed out at Atletico Madrid and with few other European suitors, Suarez heard offers from clubs in the Americas.
Rumours put him at River Plate, in MLS, in Mexico, but fans of Uruguayan giant Nacional, where he made his professional debut, mounted a campaign to bring him back to Montevideo. Somehow, it worked.
Of course Luis Suarez scored on his league debut for Nacional 🇺🇾 pic.twitter.com/2FwMFDViUa— GOAL (@goal) August 7, 2022
The logic was that he could play in high-quality Copa Libertadores matches and stay sharp, plus play deeper into the winter than had he joined a non-contender in MLS.
It was a romantic return, but like so many relationships with the past at the centre, the memory was much better than the attempt at a reboot.
Nacional missed out on the Libertadores before Suarez's signing was announced. No worries, they were still alive in Copa Sudamericana, South America's Europa League.
He joined in time to play in a 1-0 loss to Brazil's Atletico Goianiense, then played half of the second leg of a 4-0 aggregate defeat.
There were huge moments, including a golazo against hated rival Penarol, one of eight goals Suarez scored in 14 matches, but Suarez's status as one of three domestic-based players in Alonso's World Cup squad show it's not the level needed to prepare for big-ticket international matches.
Long-time running buddy Edinson Cavani managed four La Liga goals for Valencia in a similar spot.
Suarez doesn't regret going to Nacional, saying it was a thrill to have his son watch him play and score there.
In the run-up to Qatar, though, the question was understandably being asked, had Suarez done enough to warrant inclusion in Uruguay's travelling party?
However, at the end of the day, history shows he can score big goals in big situations, and the Group H clash with Portugal is certainly a big game.
☀️⚽️ pic.twitter.com/7DFTSjS3wK— Luis Suárez (@LuisSuarez9) November 20, 2022
Four years ago, Suarez ran himself into the ground as Uruguay stunned Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. in the last 16, even producing a sensational assist for Cavani in a sensational 2-1 win in Sochi.
Much of the media attention will, of course, centre on Ronaldo but Suarez could undoubtedly play a pivotal role.
He often does, after all, one way or another. He is as wily as they come. Just like fellow veterans Diego Godin and Fernando Muslera, he has an abundance of experience and know-how.
"We’ve got to be proud that this is the fourth straight World Cup with these players," Suarez told Marca this year. "That has a lot of value.
"Our squad, a mix of experience and youth, has a lot of togetherness, and that really influences a lot at a World Cup."
He would know, of course. He's pretty much done it all. From glorious goals to infamous fouls.
Does he have one more memorable moment in him, though? Maybe it doesn't matter.
After all, everyone's already made their mind up on one of the most divisive players the World Cup has ever seen.