Quietly, without anyone paying attention, Luis Suarez has changed the hierarchy at the top of the footballing world, establishing himself as the best player in the world right now. Yes, even better than Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid.
Since 2008, it’s been a two-man argument. Messi, with his historic 2012 calendar year, with 3 Champions League trophies (actually there’s one from 2006 as well) and 7 La Liga trophies among many more, or Ronaldo, who has won just one league title with Real Madrid, but two Champions League trophies, blew by Messi in the UCL scoring charts (Messi is the top scorer in La Liga history), and won the 2016 Euro with Portugal, despite bowing out early in the final, and not having a very good tournament.
But over the last three seasons, Suarez has probably been more impressive. Considering how Liverpool have looked since he left, it won’t be wrong to describe the 2013-2014 EPL campaign as Suarez single-handedly taking Liverpool within one Steven Gerrard slip of winning the league title for the first time since 1990. Maybe that’s oversimplifying the situation, but that’s not far from the truth. He scored 31 league goals that year, along with 21 assists, in one of the best individual efforts ever seen in England, at least since the Premier League was established.
At Barcelona, despite Neymar and Messi playing next to him, he hasn’t slowed down. His suspension following the 2014 World Cup added a lot of rust, but he ended up helping Barcelona win the Champions League with 25 goals in all competitions, and while their efforts were thwarted by Atletico Madrid on the European Stage last year, Suarez helped Barcelona win the league title with 40 league goals, the best ever season in Spain for a player not named Messi or Ronaldo. He scored 59 goals in 53 matches, and ended up landing the Pichichi award and the European Golden Shoe, an award he shared with Ronaldo two years before.
So is Suarez really better at this point? Obviously, a more subjective question doesn’t exist in the world of football, but the 29-year old Uruguay striker seems only to get better with time. Ronaldo showed signs of slowing down last season. Messi remains one of the more exquisite things to watch on the football pitch, and moving into a different position and role over the last two seasons hasn’t seemed to weaken him, but maybe for the sake of hunger and motivation alone, Suarez does seem more influential than Messi for Barcelona most of the time.
Suarez won’t go down as a better player than Messi or Ronaldo, unless he performs like Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a much more difficult league in the next three or four years. But while people have disregarded everyone for almost a decade that’s been a duopoly over the major individual awards almost without any interruption, Suarez not winning the UEFA footballer of the year can be seen as a bit of injustice, although it doesn’t take away from the fact (more like opinion, but it sounds better) that there’s not a single footballer on the planet right now with a bigger influence than him when he’s on the pitch.