Fresh off the season of his career, Luis Suarez is recovering from injury and preparing to play a major role in Uruguay's World Cup campaign. Easily one of the biggest names of the tournament, Suarez and his season-long rehabilitation campaign have arrived at the tournament with something to prove to those who labeled him the villain of the last World Cup for his deliberate handball versus Ghana.
"I want to change the bad boy image that has stuck for a bit," Suarez said in a new interview with Sports Illustrated, "because I don’t think I am at all how I have been portrayed. I would like that to change because it's awful to hear and read what is said of you.
"On the field, sometimes passion overwhelms you and you do things you regret afterward. At the same time, you have a chance to learn from those things. I think I [have] been a role model since last summer; I have been professional, and I have the desire to forge ahead and play well regardless of what is said to me."
Suarez's past misdeeds occurred mostly for club rather than, which has put Liverpool fans in a unique position to nervously watch as months without incident begin to add up into a not insignificant amount of time. It's been over a year since Suarez famously bit Branislav Ivanovic, and Suarez's maturation on the field since then has been largely evident to those not caught up in chronic regurgitation of Suarez's past.
For any other player it would be enough to convince the world that he'd turned a corner, but instead the World Cup brings back memories of the one incident even casual fans of the game manage to feel outraged by. It's bad timing, but Suarez's self-awareness is certainly more pronounced than ever and he even seems to be taking on a position that is in direct opposition to the one often used to excuse his past actions.
"Of course they should be," Suarez said when asked if athletes should be considered role models. "Many times, [athletes’] attitudes are reflected in their performance on the field. I’ve had some attitudes on the field that weren’t very good for my image. But those weren’t really me—outside- the field, I’m very shy. I realized I had to adjust my attitude on the field, to continue to play well but without the bad attitude."
The world will have to find a new villain in the next month if Suarez keeps to his commitment to playing a less volatile — but by no means less virtuosic — game. The World Cup always manages to find one or two controversial narratives, but hopefully any stories involving Suarez will revolve around the success he could have in the tournament.