Luis Suarez eyes glorious final chapter alongside Lionel Messi and Co at Inter Miami

Uruguayan striker, 36, is set to join Barca band of brothers at MLS club after prolific spell with Gremio in Brazil

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“They doubted me because of my age,” Luis Suarez began. “They talked about the knee. They said I was fat, and that football in Brazil was very intense. These are beautiful challenges.” At which point in his farewell speech to supporters of Gremio of Porto Alegre, Suarez referred to himself in the third person: “It shows that Luis Suarez loves this profession, loves this work.”

Suarez was surveying the fine body of work he has just completed at the age of 36. Safe to report that the Uruguayan spent 2023 making a similar scale of impact on Brazilian football as he did on the Dutch, English and Spanish leagues before, although perhaps with less of the controversy that tended to follow the younger version of Suarez at Ajax and Liverpool.

His goal in the victory over Vasco da Gama on Sunday was his 27th for Gremio, in his 53rd match. Add to that his 17 assists and the high number of replica Suarez jerseys Gremio have retailed since last January, and he departs as a hero.

Being Suarez, whose game has always been played with a bristling aggression and whose career timeline includes three different sanctions for biting opponents, there were also 11 bookings during the Gremio journey.

But there was a decent legacy. The club, thanks in large part to their celebrated goalscorer, have qualified for the next Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of the Champions League.

Suarez will not be leading that adventure, but his “love of the profession, the work” is set to take him to one more “beautiful challenge” in club football, on a new continent but an environment that would seem very familiar indeed.

Inter Miami of Major League Soccer hope, in the January transfer window, to unveil Suarez as the fourth musketeer in their collection of former Barcelona players.

For Suarez, the most persuasive of those is Lionel Messi, with whom he struck up a close and lasting friendship – as did their respective families – when the pair were thrillingly effective striking partners and Champions League winners together at Barca. The breaking up of their tandem, in the tumultuous summer of 2020 when Suarez was allowed to leave for Atletico Madrid, was painful for both.

Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, who moved to Florida in the summer directly from Barca, would be pleased to see Suarez, too. Inter Miami’s coach Gerardo Martino, a former Barcelona manager whose one-year term in Catalonia ended just as Suarez joined from Liverpool, would welcome the additional firepower.

A heightened dependence on Messi, who made a huge impression immediately after joining Inter Miami in the summer, having left Paris Saint-Germain, developed quickly at the Florida club. Messi inspired a trophy success – in the Leagues Cup within his first month in America, but injury limited his MLS appearances and Inter Miami failed to reach the end-of-season play-offs.

There are some bureaucratic issues to resolve for the Suarez contract to be agreed, but the player is enthusiastic and regards a season alongside his old friends in the MLS as a far more appealing option to retirement.

He will turn 37 in January and treats his chronic knee problems with regular painkilling medication, but the competitive desire remains as fierce as it was in the days when he moved more freely and swiftly past defenders.

As Barcelona found, declaring Suarez to be past his sell-by date is to heighten his motivation. When he departed Camp Nou after six years there he felt wronged by the club. He responded by spearheading Atletico to the Spanish title.

Arriving at Gremio, after a short spell at Nacional in Uruguay, there were mean-spirited observations about what shape he was in. He finished as third highest goalscorer in Brazil’s Serie A and as top provider of assists.

Back in the spring, when Marcelo Bielsa took over as manager of the Uruguay national team, the process of rejuvenation began without Suarez and his fellow veteran Edinson Cavani.

Yet last month, attentive to Suarez’s form at Gremio, Bielsa recalled the old warrior for his 138th cap. “I’m happy to help however I can,” Suarez said, with an eye on next year’s Copa America, which will be staged in the US.

The draw for the group stage for that event takes place on Thursday, in Miami, the city where the so-called ‘Messi Effect’ – the increased attention that Messi’s decision to move to MLS in the summer has drawn to football in the States – is concentrated.

The Copa America wants to catch some of that momentum and have organised that Messi’s Argentina play their last group game in Miami. If by next June, Suarez has captured the US imagination as he did Brazilian football’s, Uruguay will have gained an extra local following, too.

Updated: December 06, 2023, 1:55 PM