In Spain it’s been a slow start for Suárez. He’s scored three times in eleven games and provided a couple of tidy assists. Don’t forget, his first six months at Anfield were relatively quite too. This is just the calm before the storm; although whether the storm will be positive or negative for the fiery 27-year-old is anyone’s guess.
– December 2014
The above paragraph concluded Luis Suárez’s entry at number four in Back Page Football’s ‘Top 50 Players in the World 2014’ countdown. It’s safe to say, the storm has come and for Barcelona’s opponents it couldn’t be more devastating.
The Uruguayan’s slow start extended to just six goals in 20 games in all competitions. He was banned for his first three months at the club and then struggled to impact during the following three.
Then came February and the first signs of winter’s end; Suárez has blossomed ever since.
Suárez’s last nine games have yielded eight strikes and one assist. His form has been of extra significance, coinciding with Barca’s ascension to the top of La Liga and Neymar’s dip in fortune.
A return to England brought a crucial brace against Manchester City in the Champions League, then in Sunday’s el clásico the 28-year-old former Liverpool and Ajax striker produced the match-winning moment to send the Catalonians four points clear of Real Madrid going into the international break.
Big chunks of that €80 million already paid off.
The break has given the dust a chance to settle and the aftermath of the storm has left Suárez with a tally of 14 goals and 12 assists in 29 games. While still not sensational, it certainly compares favorably to the debut seasons produced by the other strikers who have been tasked with partnering Lionel Messi over the years.
The table below shows how Barca’s big money forward signings fared (in all competitions) in their first year at Camp Nou:
[Note: Only forward players signed when Messi was a first-team regular are included which discounts Samuel Eto’o.]
Everyone of those strikers, it is fair to say, is better than their debut campaign suggests. Not that they underperformed or that their returns aren’t respectable; they’ve just all had better individual seasons than their first with Barca.
Each one was the main man at the club they departed to sign for Barcelona and each one had to adjust to playing a background role to the genius of Messi.
As you can see from the table, despite his early season struggles Suárez has a better goals per game ratio than any of his predecessors. If he can carry his current form through the international break and out the other side then he’ll leave the others in the dust.
On the other side of the coin, we could just as easily see him return to the irregular scoring of November to January.
Even in such a case, he’d only need to score twice in Barca’s remaining minimum of 13 fixtures to overhaul the tallies of Neymar and Alexis Sanchez.
If he were to to maintain his overall ratio of 0.48 goals per game the remaining ties would harvest a further six goals, putting him ahead of Thierry Henry and just behind Zlatan Ibrahimović and David Villa.
If Suárez replicates anything close to the last eight weeks then he could be well on his way to being recognised as the best striker partner Barca have found for Messi. The Stoichkov to Messi’s Romário.
It’s worth noting that Messi couldn’t find form when Neymar was producing his fine early season exploits this campaign but has had no trouble flourishing alongside a red hot Suárez.
It’s also certainly worth remembering that Suárez’s first seasons with both Ajax and Liverpool were quiet, by his own crazy standards at least. The true greatness came later.
If his time in Spain follows that trend then there will be no lingering debates over the fee the Barca hierarchy paid for him. Below is a table showing his record in his debut campaigns with his European clubs:
His debut year at Ajax makes for impressive reading but the 22 times he found the net in 42 games in 07/08 actually represents his weakest full season in Amsterdam. His fact sheet upon leaving for Anfield was a remarkable 111 goals in 159 games with the Dutch giants, meaning Suárez’s goals per game jumped from an initial 0.52 to an overall 0.69.
The same story is told of his time in the Premier League. After joining in January 2011 he scored four times in 13 games for the Reds. His first full season in England ended with a return of 17 goals in 39 games.
Suárez then really caught fire under Brendan Rodgers and The Kop couldn’t get enough of him before he departed for Spain with an overall record of 82 goals in 133 games. This time the ratio leaps from 0.43 goals per game to 0.61. His stay at Groningen only lasted one year.
At both European clubs with which Suárez stayed at for more than one season he improved quite dramatically as he settled in. To date he’s been marginally better, statistically at least, than any of the men bought to partner Messi have initially been.
If a similar improvement to what took place in Holland and England occurs in Catalonia then Real Madrid and the other giants of Europe will have to find some big answers to the questions Barcelona are going to ask of them.