The Ballon d’Or has caused some controversy in recent years with glaring omissions from shortlists and teams of the year, as well as some bizarre voting patterns and preferential treatment by coaches or players involved in the voting process. So, to try and bring some credibility back to football’s individual honours, we have created The Blog d’Or, where the writers of The Blog FC have whittled down a 50-man longlist to countdown the real best 23 players of the calendar year. The countdown continues here.
The Blog d’Or #4
Liverpool & Barcelona
As the American polymath Oscar Levant once proclaimed: ‘there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line’.
For Luis Suarez – footballing genius, irascible madman, the line had all the permanence of a referee’s vanishing spray. A man whose very soul seems permanently and percariously perched on the edge. Whose fierce temper and brutal will to win is in constant battle with his undeniable attacking brilliance – a yin and yang of footballing creation and destruction.
In 2014, this duality came to define one of the sport’s most divisive and singular figures like never before.
Fresh from winning the Football Supporters’ Federation Player of the Year for 2013 and signing a new four-and-a-half-year contract with Liverpool, Suarez brought in the new year by scoring in a 2-0 win against Hull.
This made him the first Liverpool player to reach 20 goals in back to back seasons since Robbie Fowler in 1996. It also set a new record for quickest to reach the 20-goal mark, with Suarez accomplishing it in a staggering 15 matches.
On March 1, he made his 100th Premier League appearance and, from then, the records kept flowing. He scored his 6th Premier League hat trick (and third of the season) against Cardiff City and later broke Fowler’s club record of 28 goals in a league season against Tottenham.
In April, he became the first Liverpool player since Ian Rush in 1987 to score 30 league goals in a season and the 7th to do so in the Premier League era. Naturally this led to a second successive PFA Player of the Year nomination and he won comfortably, becoming the first non-European to win the award.
He also won the Football Association Writers Player of the Year award and the Barclays Premier League Player of the Season award. His return of 31 goals in 33 games secured him the Premier League Golden Boot and tied him with Cristiano Ronaldo for the European Golden Shoe. This was made all the more remarkable given he was banned for the start of the season due to a biting incident with Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic; and he didn’t take his side’s penalties.
His partnership with Daniel Sturridge, affectionately named ‘SAS’, etched itself into the pantheon of great strike duos with a sensational combined 52 Premier League goals. The name couldn’t have been more fitting, as the duo regularly dared to try the spectacular, more often than not leaving opponents shocked and awed in their wake.
Yet such personal accolades meant nothing in wake of Liverpool’s failure to secure the Premier League title. Suarez left their penultimate game against Crystal Palace in tears after a disastrous collapse saw Liverpool throw away a 3-0 lead and hand Manchester City the impetus in the title race.
It was in such circumstances that Suarez left England to prepare for Uruguay’s World Cup campaign in Brazil. Yet, on May 22, Suarez received surgery on his left knee and it was feared he would be unable to appear in the tournament, a huge blow to Uruguay’s hopes of progressing from a difficult group.
He was an unused substitute in Uruguay’s 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica in the first group game, but was named in the starting lineup for La Celeste against England. Having endured a fraught and fractious relationship with the British press and fans during his time at Liverpool, Suarez got the sweetest of revenge – scoring twice in a 2-1 win that condemned England to an ignominious exit from the competition.
It was in Uruguay’s final group game against Italy that Suarez’s duality came to a head. Having unleashed his creative yang against England, and with Uruguay desperately needing a goal to progress, his destructive yin emerged as he bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder. Referee Marco Rodriguez missed the incident and Uruguay scored off a subsequent corner to progress to the knockout stages but Suarez’s World Cup would come to a bitter and shameful end.
FIFA opened disciplinary hearings against the player and two days later, banned him for nine international matches. Furthermore, Suarez was banned from partaking in any footballing activity for four months, jeopardising his club future. He was naturally absent from Uruguay’s second round loss to Colombia and returned to Liverpool in disgrace.
Having sought to leave Liverpool the previous summer, the club reluctantly agreed to sell him to Barcelona for £75m. Facing a future transfer ban, the Catalan club were willing to secure his services despite three months remaining on his ban to assemble one of the greatest front-threes in footballing history alongside Leo Messi and Neymar Jr.
Suarez appealed the conditions of his ban in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and was allowed to train with the club and play friendly matches, through remained suspended for any competitive matches.
He made his proper debut on October 25, starting alongside Leo Messi and Neymar away to Real Madrid. El Clasico made a fitting return for the Uruguayan but Barca slumped to a 3-1 defeat, despite Suarez claiming an assist in Neymar’s fourth minute goal.
Having gone from superstar player to team player in a superstar team, Suarez initially struggled with his new role, finally scoring his first league goal in his eighth match in a 5-0 victory against Cordoba.
Controversial, cunning, brutish and brilliant – for every gushing superlative, an equally scathing pejorative. Such is Suarez’s particular kind of magnetism.
A player who makes you want to avert your eyes, but from whom you can’t ever look away.