South Africa, 2010. Our Uruguay team were away at the World Cup finals for five weeks. The length of the trip was positive because if you’re away for that long then you know you’ve done well in a tournament and we reached the semi-finals, but we were away from our friends and families for a long time as we moved around the country.
Some hotels were better than others and we had a lot of time to kill between games. One way we did this was by playing pool.
We’d have big competitions and Luis Suarez, myself and Edison Cavani would tend to play more than most. We would play for a bottle of cologne.
The other players would gather around the table and cheer. It was great for team spirit and even better for me if I won!
I have to say that my good friend Luis would always pay the prize when I did. He was honourable in defeat.
What I should also say — and I never told him this at the time — was that I had a pool table in my house in Madrid which I would practise on.
Maybe people look at Luis Suarez in a different way to me. He had three or four years where his outstanding talent as a footballer was marked by incidents for which he received a lot of criticism.
He’s human, he made some mistakes and he apologised for them. Some people will forget, others won’t.
What I’d say is that his desire to win was so strong that he reacted in ways which he wasn’t always proud of. He’s a winner, I saw it when I first watched him play a youth game for Uruguay.
A few years later we would be playing together for Uruguay. We would text and speak and we still do — be it about Penarol (my team) or Nacional (his team in Uruguay) or our careers.
He would let me know how he was doing at Ajax or Liverpool or Barcelona. Not bad clubs, eh?
People ask me what he is like as a person. Firstly, he’s a family man. If he had spare time when with the national team in Uruguay he would be straight to see his family.
I spent a lot of time with him with the Uruguay team and we would share planes across the Atlantic back to our clubs in Europe.
He is a good person, professional, happy, funny and positive for any team in the dressing room.
He is also in magnificent form. He’s scored a goal in each of Barcelona’s last five games and set up a goal in four of them.
He is the second highest scorer in Spain with 23 league goals from 28 games this season and 31 goals from 42 Barcelona games in all competitions. He has also made 17 assists, more than any player in Europe. Despite playing alongside the best player in the world in Lionel Messi and Neymar, who is another of the top five players in the world, Luis scores some of Barcelona’s most important goals.
He got the goal against Real Madrid in December, he scored in both legs of the Copa del Rey semi-final against my old team Atletico Madrid, the goal which drew the cup quarter-final level against Athletic Bilbao and two goals in the Barcelona derby against Espanyol.
On Wednesday he set Barca on their way to victory with the opening goal against Sevilla and he was again superb.
He has told me all about Messi and Neymar. One reason they get on so well on the field is that they are all mates off the field, the three South Americans from neighbouring countries. Their partners are friends too.
Barcelona was the right move for Luis. His in-laws have lived in the city for a long time, it’s a great city with a club which always wins trophies and, with better players around him, he has improved as a player.
Five years ago, Luis was all about goals. Now, he is a more complete forward. In fact he is the complete forward. He still has the killer instinct to score, but those three know that they are always going to have so many chances among each other that they are always going to score.
Luis turned 30 earlier this year. At 30 and 31, I had some of the best moments in my career, many of them playing alongside Luis in the World Cup finals.
I see him in his prime and full of confidence and consistency. His goal totals get overshadowed by Messi’s but they’re phenomenal. Luis scored 59 goals last season.
Mentally, he is good and full of confidence. Physically, he is good. He is in a team who can be the best in the world when they are in form as they are in now.
Barca have clicked at the right time. Even though they are not top of the league and sit behind Real Madrid, who also have a game in hand, they have the form and quality to beat Madrid this month when they meet on April 23 and to win the Uefa Champions League.
Winning one of the two will be considered a success for Barca, but whatever happens, Suarez has been a success yet again this season, as he has been in every season.
He might even be better at pool these days, too.
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