That the striker needed to make way in order to renew a tired Blaugrana side is a justifiable argument. But as has become custom around Camp Nou the affair has been handled with a shocking clumsiness and lack of tact, as the club attempts to usher quietly out the door a player who has provided six years of stellar service.
Whatever one might think of Barcelona, they usually do farewells for their legends in the right way. Icons such as Carles Puyol, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta in recent years have all received stirring send-offs, in contrast to the rather brusque treatment afforded to the likes of Iker Casillas and Raul at the hands of the hard-headed Real Madrid management.
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Suarez perhaps does not quite fall in the same category as those three legends, La Masia born and bred and so influential to the near-unbroken run of success that began with Pep Guardiola more than a decade ago.
Nevertheless, the 33-year-old deserved to see his exit handled with more respect than that offered by new coach Ronald Koeman and beleaguered president Josep Maria Bartomeu in the wake of the Champions League meltdown at the hands of Bayern Munich.
At the root of the problem, of course, is Barca’s mammoth salary bill, unsustainable in the midst of the economic turmoil caused by Covid-19. Therefore, in the days following their Bayern humiliation the Catalans have moved fast to remove those players both on the wrong side of 30 and among the highest earners in the squad – Messi’s case, of course, is the exception as the one ‘untouchable’ veteran.
Arturo Vidal is among that group; the Chilean now on the verge of a return to Italian football with Inter. Ivan Rakitic, a mainstay of Luis Enrique’s 2015 treble-winning team and unjustly vilified in recent seasons by the ever-impatient Barca support, has been sent packing to former club Sevilla for a risible fee of €1.5 million. Less than six months ago Bartomeu was reportedly preparing to hold out for €20m.
Both stars along with Suarez were told by Koeman that they would have no part to play in the coming campaign, a move that may improve Barca’s balance sheet but did nothing to help change Messi’s mind about leaving. In another piece of catastrophic financial business on the part of the club, Barca will have to stump up €14m in lost wages to Suarez in order to get him off the books.
Vidal too was less than pleased, telling Daniel Habif’s YouTube channel that “Barcelona has to change their way of thinking, they are losing their DNA. “A first-class team can’t survive with 13 professionals and the rest of youths.”
For his part, Suarez has largely kept a stony silence since news of his presumed departure broke. The Uruguayan’s sole public message came via Instagram, where he told his followers that “There are people speaking for me or saying things about me, when I haven’t had anything to do with them for years. I speak when I have to for me!”
In the meantime, despite his age and recent knee problems, there appears to be no shortage of interest in his services at the highest level, with Juventus now close to securing the Uruguayan’s signature.
Barca’s purchasing plans, meanwhile, have been further weakened by an emphatic message from San Siro. Lautaro Martinez has long been touted as Suarez’s inevitable heir, a move that enjoyed the unequivocal approval of his international team-mate, the ever-influential Messi.
Inter sporting director Piero Ausilio, however, could hardly have been more emphatic as he told Sky Sport of the transfer on Tuesday: “We never began official talks with Barcelona for Lautaro Martinez. The day after his buyout clause expired we considered him off the market. It’s over.”
Without Suarez, without Lautaro, and very likely without Messi, Barca are left with just injury-prone Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, shorn of form and confidence since joining the club, and Martin Braithwaite, who has managed just a single goal in 11 Blaugrana appearances.
That trio has to date mustered just 35 goals for the club, compared to the Uruguayan’s 198 and, of course, the record-breaking figure of 634 racked up by Leo. Even if Barca do move for a new striker – ex-Manchester United man Memphis Depay, so impressive for Lyon in 2019-20 and Celta’s Uruguay international Maxi Gomez have been mentioned as possible candidates – the shadow left by that pair will be tough to live under, no matter who comes in.
“It is chaos, a lot of things are going on,” admitted midfielder Frenkie de Jong when asked by NOS about the mood in the Barca camp. Just over two weeks since that now-infamous thrashing in Lisbon, the club has fallen into a crisis from which there appears no clear way out and which is largely of its own making.
It may well be time for Suarez to go, a fact the Uruguayan had already tacitly acknowledged in 2020 with his endorsement of a potential move for Lautaro. Even before last season, he had shown clear signs of slowing down, struggling more and more to return to fighting shape prior to the start of each campaign and failing to make an impact in many crucial matches when the Blaugrana sorely needed his talent in the penalty area.
But in their haste to shed their big earners Bartomeu and his Barca board only transformed an on-pitch crisis into one that has hit off the field too, causing Messi, Suarez’s close personal friend, to declare himself in open rebellion in the process.
Suarez deserves better treatment after six years, almost 200 goals, and 13 major trophies. But instead, he has been sacrificed without pity on the altar of renewal and progress. While it may seem a minor issue amid the Messi crisis, discarding Suarez without the possibility of a replacement is another example of how badly things have got around Camp Nou.