Having looked set to miss what remained of the 2019-20 season through injury, Luis Suarez is now poised to play a vital role in Barcelona’s quest for Liga and Champions League honours.
The break in the campaign due to the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic gave the Uruguayan’s weary knee joint time to heal following surgery in January.
This weekend, he will be declared fit by Barca’s medical staff. While he still faces a race against time to prove he is ready for the Blaugrana’s first game back, against Mallorca the following Saturday, he will soon be back lining up alongside Lionel Messi and looking to add to his current Liga tally of 11 goals.
“I’m doing just fine, adapting to the return to training with my team-mates, taking it step by step,” Suarez told Barca’s official website this week.
“Obviously, coming back from an injury is difficult because you are a little afraid, but I’m already enjoying training with my team-mates.”
However the remaining weeks of the season turn out for Quique Setien’s charges, they may prove especially poignant for his feisty No.9.
With Lautaro Martinez’s seemingly inevitable , this could be Suarez’s final taste of life as Barca’s first-choice centre-forward – and his future at the club is by no means certain.
To his credit, Suarez has been nothing but enthusiastic when asked about the Inter Milan striker’s possible signing.
“He has all the talent to play at Barca,” he told RAC1 of the young Argentine back in February. “I have been saying for two years it would be good to bring in a young forward so he can start adapting and learn for when I am gone.
“Bringing in new players is great because it makes you more competitive.”
He repeated that praise to Mundo Deportivo in April: “He is a No.9 who has spectacular movement and that reflects what a great forward he is.”
No matter how Suarez rationalises the move, though, the truth is that if Lautaro does join Barca, he will do so as the former Liverpool forward’s replacement.
At 33 and with well-publicised problems with both his knee and his waistline following long periods of inactivity, the Uruguayan’s glittering career among the elite is coming to an end.
“Because of his age, we might be looking at the end of Luis Suarez at Barca,” his namesake and Blaugrana legend of the 1960s Luis Suarez explained to Marca . “He has started picking up injuries of late and Barca cannot afford to wait to see what happens.
“If he can play, great, because he has always performed phenomenally. If not, you have to look for a substitute.”
Lautaro certainly fits the bill.
The Inter striker ticks all of Barca’s boxes in looking for a new No.9. He is just 22 years old, strong, dynamic, proficient both with the ball at his feet and in the air and, perhaps most important of all
It is easy to see him and Leo lining up together as Barca’s first-choice pairing when 2020-21 eventually gets off the ground, hailing a new era for the Catalan club.
All of which is not to say that Suarez’s time at Camp Nou must come to an instant end.
As the striker himself hinted, adapting to life at one of the world’s biggest and demanding football clubs is no easy task, and continuing to count on his experience and talents off the bench could prove a wise strategy for Barca, particularly if Lautaro initially struggles to settle.
Suarez could well take on a role similar to that which Arturo Vidal has practised with such success this current campaign, as an impact substitute in the latter stages of matches once the Catalans have ground down their opponents.
Lautaro Martinez Skills and Goals:-
It is in 2021 that the club will have to make a big decision. Suarez’s contract is up next June, although he does possess a clause allowing for automatic renewal should he play a certain number of games.
If he does decide to cut short what would be at that point a seven-year stay at Camp Nou – one laden with goals, trophies and individual accolades – even at 34 he would have no problem finding a new challenge.
Back in South America, Boca Juniors have come up more than once in connection with Suarez, and the presence of Ex Barca player Juan Roman Riquelme in the boardroom can only help the Buenos Aires side’s chances of landing the all-action attacker.
At this point, however, the move appears little more than a pipe dream from a financial perspective.
Suarez’s hometown club Nacional, whom he left at just 19 for Groningen, would also welcome their prodigal son back with open arms; while if the forward favours one last payday, MLS looms large as an option.
Such a decision can wait for now, though. For the time being, Suarez remains Barca’s prime target man; the man, who along with Messi, they turn to for goals in astounding quantities.
However, Lautaro’s projected signing marks the beginning of the end for the ultra-competitive Uruguayan, who must now begin to think about life after Barcelona after so many years in a starring role.