For some Liverpool fans, Luis Suarez was always a misunderstood hero, driven to succeed and dragging the Reds along with him as best he could. For some, he was always the villain, a lengthy list of antics and misdeeds far outweighing any positives he brought to the side.
For most, it was probably always a little more complicated; a little more conflicted. Suarez, at his best out on the pitch, had an undeniable drive and talent. Some of the things he did while almost single-handedly carrying Liverpool to the title in 2014 truly were exceptional.
On the other hand there was, well, everything else. And no matter his qualities as a football player, it was difficult to overlook the everything given how much of it there was and how unpalatable so much of it was. He was, perhaps, an easier player to appreciate than love.
That might be the kindest way of putting it, for many. Yet in 180 minutes for Barcelona as Suarez and the Catalan giants took on his former club, one thing became quite clear: Luis Suarez the football player doesn’t exist any more. The talent is now gone. Faded. Spent.
Across two legs, Suarez had one moment of true footballing excellence, slicing his way between Virgil van Dijk and Joël Matip to score 26’ into the first leg. One moment of the kind of skill and drive he consistently showed while playing for Liverpool. In 180 minutes.
Which meant that the only thing left of Luis Suarez over the rest of those 180 minutes was the rest. The petulance, the antics, the diving and baiting and waving of imaginary cards at the referee, his face contorted, the grimace of an angry, bearded child denied dessert.
He taunted, and he rolled about, and he lashed out—and knocked Liverpool left back Andy Robertson out of the tie in doing so. But he didn’t do anything with the ball at his feet. He didn’t even try to play football, mostly. At least that’s how it appeared to those watching on.
Given his almost pathological drive, the one that propelled Suarez from Montevideo to Amsterdam to Liverpool and finally to his dream, Barcelona, it’s impossible to think that he wasn’t trying. It’s just never looked as though he was, most likely because now he can’t.
He can’t regularly beat a player with the ball at his feet; can’t make runs and exploit space. Not any more. But he’s still just as driven as he ever was to beat the opponent in front of him, to win and achieve, so he does what he can. Which doesn’t involve playing football.
The Kop, one imagines—and many Liverpool fans out beyond Anfield—would perhaps have been able to forgive the old Suarez some of his unfortunate antics had their former player come up against them and been able to beat them by at least mostly playing football.
But he can’t. So he spent two games either simulating or complaining about largely non-existent simulation; crying out or kicking out. And then he and Barcelona still failed. While the fans who once loved him—or at least appreciated his footballing talent—cursed him.
You might almost feel sorry for him. Then you remember that as he can no longer play football, Suarez spent 180 minutes trying to cheat his way past his old club. And so, in the immortal worlds of Andy Robertson, Who’s going to the final? We’re going to the final.