LUIS SUAREZ INTERVIEW WITH JAMIE CARRAGHER
CARRAGHER: So what’s your record for Barcelona? 61 goals in 77 games. Not many defenders are stopping you scoring. But do you remember a charity game at Anfield last March? It was a 2-2 draw and the centre half had you in his pocket…
SUAREZ: (laughs) Well, we were playing for the charity. You were playing serious! Always serious!
CARRAGHER: I’m just pointing that out! When you turned up at Liverpool (in January 2011) it was already clear you were a top player but in five years you have become the best centre-forward in the world. What have you improved? What did you decide you needed to get better at?
SUAREZ: It was a dream to arrive at Liverpool but I never wanted to just settle for what I had achieved. I wanted more. I played for Liverpool alongside Stevie (Gerrard) and you and that was incredible but then I went on to have a lot more responsibility and even bigger clubs were interested in me. My attitude was always to keep growing as a player.
CARRAGHER: When you were at Liverpool, people used to say: ‘If we get back into the Champions League, Luis will stay.’ But I’d say: ‘No - never mind playing in the Champions League, he should be winning it.’ It wasn’t about you just playing a few games in the competition. It was about you getting that medal.
SUAREZ: Yes. That’s the mentality - don’t just play it, win it. My desire at Liverpool was to help get the club playing in the elite because they had been five years without it. We used to talk about it in the dressing room. If Liverpool are not in the Champions League, it is difficult to get the best players to come to the club. That’s why for me to come to Barcelona there had to be that opportunity to not just play the tournament but to win it.
CARRAGHER: I remember being in Berlin last June when you scored the second goal against Juventus. That was the moment you proved why it was right to move.
SUAREZ: You just can’t believe how quickly things happen in football and the way life turns. I went from being the bad guy, the worst player who gets all the criticism, to being the player who makes the difference and scores the important goals. There is always a chance to get even and I’m proud of the fact that for all the blows I always got back up again. That’s what makes me most content.
CARRAGHER: You think of players who have come to Barcelona and maybe been similar to you: Alexis Sanchez is a good example. He’s a great player but he found it difficult here because of the position. What have you found about adapting to life at Barcelona? Did you worry about fitting in?
SUAREZ: (big sigh) Yes. At first I didn’t think I was going to fit into Barcelona’s way of playing. There was a lot of tiki-taka and I was thinking that without a lot of space to play in, I’d find it more difficult. I worried about that. But the help of my team-mates and the fact Luis Enrique ended up putting me in the No 9 position meant I felt more comfortable. I’ve got a magnificent relationship with Leo (Messi) and Ney (Neymar). They drive the team, with Andres Iniesta as well - what a player. You know if you have a good relationship with them off the pitch it will be that way on the pitch too. They took it as a sign that I had come to help them, not to compete with them.
CARRAGHER: I’ll be honest. When you first left Liverpool I thought that you would end up playing on the right wing, which is not your best position. How did the change happen so you and Messi switched places?
SUAREZ: The coach made the decision. When we started off, I did not feel comfortable on the right and Leo didn’t feel as comfortable. So there was a game against Ajax in the Champions League, where we said we would try to change it to see how it worked. We felt comfortable and we decided to stay that way. The coach was completely in agreement because that was what he wanted to make sure that we all felt as comfortable as possible.
CARRAGHER: It’s interesting you say that. I was in Camp Nou when you beat Valencia 7-0 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final. You scored four, Messi scored three. Neymar misses a penalty and a few chances but he is celebrating your goals as if he has scored them himself…
SUAREZ: The same happens to me when I don’t score goals. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier. It’s all natural, you know? We don’t sit there and plan it beforehand. Everything you see comes from inside. People don’t see it but inside the dressing room we laugh and joke a lot so it’s not just for the cameras. It’s the way things are off the pitch too. We are happy for each other, it is all natural. I’m not envious of Leo or Ney. Why would I be? If there is envy in the dressing room, you know it’s only going to affect results.
I know what my strengths are and what theirs are and what the three of us do is play for the good of the team. We realise that Leo is the best and we play so that Barcelona win trophies. There is no envy between us three. There have been cases in the past where some players have fought or argued among themselves and there has been some envy and the team has suffered because of it. That’s not going to happen now.
CARRAGHER: So you have played in Uruguay, in Holland with Groningen and Ajax and in the Premier League with Liverpool. Now here. What is unique about Barcelona? What makes it special?
SUAREZ: I’d have to say I enjoy myself a lot more, really. I don’t feel so much responsibility as I did in other teams. It felt sometimes at Ajax and Liverpool that it had to be me. Now, every time I go out on to the pitch, I enjoy myself and laugh. I have gone through too many difficult times in my career and I don’t want to keep thinking about them.
That’s why, right now, I just want to enjoy every minute. I never imagined I would be playing with these players in the best team in the world. At Liverpool I enjoyed it a lot. I laughed a lot. We laughed a lot, didn’t we? But, at the same time, I felt a lot of responsibility. Perhaps that affected me the wrong way sometimes.
CARRAGHER: You had more responsibility at Liverpool because you had Carragher at the back! I bet you don’t try to nutmeg Gerard Pique the way you used to do me every day!
SUAREZ: (laughs and nods head) No… But I try….
CARRAGHER: You mention the problems in the past. What I think is most impressive is that nobody is talking about them now because of all the brilliant football. Is that what drives you on? To make sure that people just remember Luis Suarez the great player, the footballer?
SUAREZ: Yes, that’s what I want people to remember. I know that they will remember the bad things that I have done and I can’t change that but I want to be remembered for the good things - for winning the Champions League, for winning five of the first six trophies at Barcelona. I could win another Champions League and I want to go on making history. It goes back to the feeling of more responsibility at Liverpool. I felt I had to suffer more to not be criticised but here the responsibility falls on others too and I can enjoy it more.
CARRAGHER: Is that why not winning the Premier League really affected you? I remember you away at Crystal Palace crying after the game.
SUAREZ: That hurt. That hurt so much. We were so desperate to win it. I knew we had a unique opportunity and we were playing so well. It was that desire to get more goals against Crystal Palace that let them back into it and killed us. I knew when we drew that game the league was lost. Everyone was sick. We spoke about you in the dressing room during that run-in, you know. You had played for 17 years then, 12 months out, we came so close. How did it feel for you watching?
CARRAGHER: It was difficult, really. My son was going to every game and of course you want them to win for him, for your family and friends, for the club. Then, on the other hand, I was thinking I would be remembered as the man who left a year too early if they won it.
SUAREZ: I never told you this but I always thought the club should have recognised you far more when you retired. For the career that you had, one of Liverpool’s greatest players, you should have had a much bigger and better send-off in your final match. That’s just what I felt.
CARRAGHER: Nah! Defenders don’t count!
SUAREZ: The best thing about your last game was the party afterwards! (laughs)
CARRAGHER: You won’t say this but I believe that you are the best centre forward in the world. I don’t class Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo as centre forwards. When you were growing up, did you have one player you particularly admired? One you said: ‘That’s who I want to be, that’s who I want to emulate’.
SUAREZ: The ultimate? Gabriel Batistuta. He was a spectacular No 9 - great at finding space, shooting from outside the box, good in the air. He was always a reference for me and I used to watch the way he played. He took free-kicks as well. I don’t get to take them here! (laughs) but I’d copy him and watch videos of him all the time.
CARRAGHER: At the end of your career do you think about the great centre-forwards in history; Romario, Marco van Basten, Ronaldo…
SUAREZ: (interrupts under his breath) Suarez…
CARRAGHER: (laughs) Exactly! That’s what I’m saying! I know it’s a team game but do you sometimes think: ‘I want to score more goals than Romario or Ronaldo?’ Do you want to be one of the best of all time? Up there with Batistuta, Van Basten, that calibre of players?
SUAREZ: I swear on my children’s lives that I never look at the statistics or look at beating anyone’s records. All I do is look to improve but not compete against any record. I want to win trophies and score goals because that’s my job as a forward. And enjoy myself because I suffered enough to get here so just enjoy my football. I am not interested in the numbers.
CARRAGHER: How many goals have you got this season then?
SUAREZ: (answers in a flash) 36.
CARRAGHER: And you say you don’t know the records! Behave! You know exactly how many you’ve scored!
SUAREZ: (laughing) No! Honestly, it’s true! I only know because after the game they told me!
CARRAGHER: Yeah, yeah! They all say that. That’s strikers… They know exactly how many they’ve scored! They know the records. How many games?
SUAREZ: (answers in a flash, still laughing) 34.
CARRAGHER: You see! Anyway, moving on… Do you miss the Premier League?
SUAREZ: Yes, yes. A lot of things, really.
CARRAGHER: What are they? What’s the big difference between playing in Spain and England?
SUAREZ: The atmosphere at the games. In the Premier League you never really know what is going to happen. There is very little between the teams. Here, three or four teams aside, there is a difference with the smaller teams. I don’t mean this to sound disrespectful but there are some games where you look at the press and they are asking: ‘Let’s see how many goals Barcelona are going to score today?’ In the Premier League, you never know what is going to happen and that is something I miss.
And the atmosphere inside the stadiums, for all that it was often criticism of me. The support of the people in Anfield was incredible… Sometimes I’d go to Anfield and think: ‘Uff! There’s a game today’. You might not be in the best mood or be up for the match - but then I remember we’d go out to warm up and it would totally change my mentality. I’d be thinking to myself: ‘I have got to score two or three today.’ The way the people transmitted that to the players was incredible.
CARRAGHER: You will be back in England for the Champions League game against Arsenal. I think Barcelona are playing so well now that people are looking at you and almost feeling it will be a surprise if you don’t retain the Champions League.
SUAREZ: It would be a unique achievement, something historic and we would love to do it. But in the Champions League you never know what is going to happen. Of course we have got a chance but so too have Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain; Manchester City also.
If someone catches us on a bad day - something that can happen to any team - then we’ll be out. It is that simple. And we can’t be complacent against Arsenal. We have to make sure we don’t relax for even a minute against them because they are one of the best teams of the Premier League.
CARRAGHER: You may not finish your career at Barcelona. When you get to 31 or 32 (Suarez is 29 now), would you like to come back to the Premier League? Or would you like to try the other leagues in Europe?
SUAREZ: No. I’d prefer to stay here for many more years. I know it doesn’t always turn out that way. But if I had to return to the Premier League, I would only go to Liverpool. I wouldn’t go to another team. It wouldn’t be a move for money. I’d also love to play again for Ajax as they allowed me to develop as a player in Europe.
CARRAGHER: So you can become my first signing if I become Liverpool manager then?
SUAREZ: When are you going to become the manager?
CARRAGHER: When are you going to be ready to come back?
SUAREZ: (laughing) Shall we say three years?
CARRAGHER: I’ll start doing my badges now then!