News Matches

How Nacional's incredible fan campaign convinced Luis Suarez to go home

14:00 SAST 2022/07/28
Luis Suarez masks Nacional
Uruguay is abuzz with the news that one of the nation's finest ever players is heading back to the local league

If anyone doubts that football can still be a place of wonder and magic, all they need to do is look at Luis Suarez's blockbuster move back to Nacional to have all their faith in 'The Beautiful Game' instantly restored.

The forward could have gone anywhere in the world. Even at 35, his instinct in front of goal remains razor-sharp, and as he proved over the last two years at Atletico Madrid he is still a prized asset for any club in need of a scoring touch.

But Suarez turned his back on Europe, MLS and the middle east to go home.

Sixteen years after first leaving Nacional for Groningen as a promising yet largely unknown teenage prospect, the veteran returns to where it all began, the club which set him on the path to stardom.

Suarez has always been driven by his heart as much as his head.

One of the main motivations behind his first move to the Netherlands all the way back in 2006, so the story goes, was that childhood sweetheart Sofia Balbo had moved with her family to Barcelona a few years earlier, and he saw the Eredivisie switch as a way to be closer to her.

“I'm going to be a great player, I'll be sold to Europe and then I'll come and find you,” were the 16-year-old's prophetic parting words to Sofia. The couple remain together today and have three children together.

The decision to return to Nacional seems to be similarly influenced by personal matters.

After more than a decade and a half living in Europe the chance to return across the Atlantic Ocean for at least the next four months until the World Cup was too good to pass up, a golden opportunity for both Suarez and his young family.

Even before Nacional's interest, he was close to joining River Plate in neighbouring Argentina, a short ferry ride across the Rio de la Plata from Montevideo and home, until the club's surprise elimination from the Copa Libertadores prompted a change of heart.

Perhaps more than anything, though, the incredible campaign put in place by Nacional supporters appears to have sincerely made an impact on Suarez, tilting the odds irrevocably in their favour.

“I just want to thank you for all the affection me and my family have received in the last few days, it's been amazing,” Suarez told the Nacional faithful in the social media video which confirmed his arrival to the club.

“All of the videos and messages we have received have been so moving, it really touched our hearts in this situation where we had to decide. It was impossible to turn down the chance to play for Nacional again.”

The movement included some 50 million Twitter users across 35 countries who used the tagline #SuarezANacional, as well as tens of thousands of Nacional supporters who donned Suarez masks in the Gran Parque Central for the club's clash against Cerrito last Thursday, a stunning show of togetherness from one of South America's most fanatical fanbases.

Nacional's performance that night probably did them no harm either, as they thrashed Cerrito 5-0 to consolidate their place at the top of Group 2 of Uruguay's Intermedio championship.

They went on to win the tournament outright over Liverpool in Wednesday's final, their fourth Intermedio title since its introduction in 2017.

Suarez PS

There is much to like about this Nacional side, a dynamic blend of experience and youth which outscored all of its peers in the Intermedia, smashing 15 goals while conceding just once.

The former group is typified by players like Emmanuel Gigliotti, the Argentine warhorse previously at Boca Juniors and Independiente and the current occupant of the No.9 shirt Suarez will likely have his eye on when he is formally presented as a Bolso player.

On the other side, sparkling talents such as Brian Ocampo, already a full Uruguay international at 23 and 22-year-old Franco Fagundez ensure that the new arrival will have no shortage of potential attacking partners.

At the back, meanwhile, Nicolas Marichal, 21, is already a fixture in the middle of defence and might just be the next great centre-back to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Diego Lugano, Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez.

So, Suarez will not be coming home for merely a family jaunt. As well as their domestic commitments, Nacional are in the thick of a challenge for the Copa Sudamericana title, where they will face Brazil's Atletico Goianiense in the quarter-finals at the start of August.

Victory would set up a last-four clash against either giants Sao Paulo or Ceara and leave the club on the brink of their first continental title since 1989, also the last year any Uruguayan club lifted an international crown.

Suarez, then, is out to make history at his boyhood side, while also looking to repay the club and its fans for the extraordinary outburst of support which prompted him to come home and send Nacional and Uruguayan football as a whole into a state of joyful disbelief.

The prodigal son is back, and he has what it takes still to make these next few months very special indeed.