On a street corner in the town of Salto in Uruguay, someone has gone to the considerable effort of finding a ladder, climbing up it and Sellotaping the name 'Luis' over the first word of the street name. It used to read Joaquin Suarez. Now it pays homage to the most famous man to hail from Salto, the man who currently is the best footballer in the world.
Suarez was one of seven children born to his father Rodolfo, a porter, and his mother Sandra, a housewife. Perched on the banks of the River Uruguay on the border with Argentina, Salto is a town of cobbled streets and parks. The locals often sip — a herbal drink similar to tea — in little clusters in the street.
But when Suarez was just six, Rodolfo’s work took the family to the capital Montevideo. The move saw him start playing the game that would turn him into a millionaire, national hero and hate figure.
In 1998, Wilson Pirez, a scout for Uruguay’s most decorated club, Nacional, spotted Suarez’s talent. ‘I found him when he was nine playing kids’ football,’ says Pirez. ‘He had an incredible amount of ability for someone of that age. He was a wonderful boy, well behaved. You could always tell he was going to be a great player.’
Suárez joined local side Nacional's youth team at the age of 14. At the age of 15, Suárez was red carded for headbutting a referee. One night he was caught drinking and partying, and his coach threatened Suárez would never play unless he started playing football more seriously. In May 2005, at age 18, he made his first team debut against Junior de Barranquilla in the Copa Libertadores. He scored his first goal in September 2005 and helped Nacional win the 2005–06 Uruguayan league with 10 goals in 27 games.
Suárez was found by a group of scouts from the Dutch club Groningen when they were in Uruguay to watch another player. As they watched, he won and converted a penalty and scored a "wonder goal" against Defensor. After watching only that game, the scouts approached Suárez and said they wanted to buy him; after the season, Groningen paid Nacional €800,000 for him. Suárez was thrilled to go to Europe because his girlfriend, and current wife, Sofia Balbi, had moved to Barcelona; they had maintained a long-distance relationship for a year and he wanted to move closer to her.
Suárez was 19 years old when he went to play for Groningen. Initially he struggled because he did not know Dutch or English, and he played on the second team to adjust to the Dutch game. His teammate and fellow Uruguayan, Bruno Silva, helped him settle into living in the Netherlands and playing for a new team. He worked hard to learn Dutch and his teammates respected him for his efforts with the language. Suárez scored goals for Groningen, but he also had disciplinary problems; in one five-game stretch in January 2007, he scored four goals but received three yellow cards and one red card. Suárez ended with 10 goals in 29 league appearances to help Groningen finish eighth in the 2006–07 Eredivisie. He also scored in a 4–2 loss to Partizan Belgrade in his European debut.
Suárez signed a five-year contract with Ajax and made his club debut in the Champions League qualifier against Slavia Prague. He scored one goal in his Eredivisie debut for the club and two goals in his home debut at the Amsterdam Arena. Ajax finished second in league in the 2007–08 season and Suárez scored 17 goals in 33 league appearances, setting up a blossoming striking partnership with league top scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
During the 2008–09 season, Ajax coach Marco van Basten noted how Suárez played an important role in many of Ajax’s goals, but Van Basten was also upset by the number of yellow cards Suárez received. Suárez was suspended for a game because he was given his seventh yellow card of the season against Utrecht in a 2–0 win. He was also suspended after a halftime altercation with teammate Albert Luque over a free kick. Ajax ended the season in third place. Suárez scored 22 goals in 31 league games and finished second in scoring tables, one goal behind Mounir El Hamdaoui of AZ; Suárez was named Ajax Player of the Year.
Before the 2009–10 season, Martin Jol replaced Van Basten as coach. After the departure of previous captain, Thomas Vermaelen, to Arsenal, Jol named Suárez team captain. Suárez started scoring goals early in the season with a hat trick in a 4–1 win against RKC Waalwijk. Suárez had a number of multiple-goal games throughout the season including four goals in wins over Slovan Bratislava in the Europe League play-off round, VVV-Venlo and Roda JC Kerkrade. He scored three in the first half in another win over VVV-Venlo and six against WHC Wezep in the KNVB Cup as Ajax won by a club-record margin of 14–1. Suárez scored two more in the second leg of the KNVB Cup final and finished as the tournament's top scorer. Ajax won the Cup final 6–1 on aggregate over Feyenoord, but they finished second in the league behind FC Twente. Suárez ended the season as the Eredivisie's top scorer with 35 goals in 33 games and had 49 goals in all competitions. He was named Ajax Player of the Year for the second straight time and Dutch Footballer of the Year.
Other European clubs began to show their interest in Suárez because of the number of goals Suárez was scoring for Ajax; his play that summer at the 2010 World Cup increased their interest. Soon after Suárez returned from his World Cup campaign, he scored his one hundredth goal for Ajax in a 1–1 home draw against PAOK in a Champions League qualifier. This put him in an elite group of players, including Johan Cruyff, Van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp, to score 100 or more goals with the club. Suárez continued his scoring run with a hat trick against De Graafschap in a 5–0 win.
On 20 November 2010, Suárez bit PSV's Otman Bakkal on the shoulder during a 0–0 draw. Ajax suspended him for two games and fined him an undisclosed amount which the club said they would donate to a "good cause". The Dutch daily newspaper De Telegraaf branded Suárez the "Cannibal of Ajax". The KNVB increased Suárez's suspension to seven league matches. Suárez apologized for his actions through a video he uploaded to his Facebook page.
During the suspension Ajax was in contact with other European clubs interested in Suárez; on 28 January 2011 they accepted a €26.5 million (£22.8 million) offer for Suárez from Premier League club Liverpool. Despite leaving while suspended, Suárez departed Ajax on good terms, and he was given a farewell sendoff after an Ajax game. During the sendoff an Ajax coach spoke to him and the crowd and said how the club wished he could stay longer; the crowd applauded their agreement and fireworks followed. Ajax ended the 2010–11 season as Eredivisie champions and Suárez was given a winner’s medal for his seven goals in 13 appearances.
While he was at Ajax, Suárez scored 111 goals in 159 appearances. Suárez recognized Ajax legends, Van Basten, Bergkamp, Frank de Boer and Henk ten Cate, for teaching him about football during his time at the club. He noted that Van Basten taught him the techniques and movement required for playing forward and he learned from all of them to be composed in front of the goal and not react to fouls.
Suárez signed a five-and-a-half-year deal until 2016, and was Liverpool's most expensive signing (£22.8 million) until the arrival of Andy Carroll (£35 million) a few hours later. Suárez requested the number seven jersey, but at the time did not realise that it had been worn by Liverpool "legends" such as his new manager Kenny Dalglish and Kevin Keegan. After he learned about the players who previously wore that number, he said he appreciated the expectations associated with it. Suárez made his Liverpool debut on 2 February against Stoke City at Anfield in a 2–0 win; he came on as a substitute and scored Liverpool's second goal in front of the Kop in the sixty-third minute. He was one of Liverpool’s best players during his partial season and helped Liverpool go from twelfth in the league in mid-January to finish sixth. He finished the 2010–11 season with four goals in 13 games.
After winning the Player of the Tournament at the 2011 Copa América, Suárez had a disappointing 2011–12 season by his standards. Liverpool finished in eighth place and Suárez scored 11 league goals. Suárez scored his first Liverpool hat trick against Norwich City at Carrow Road, and won his first Liverpool trophy with the League Cup. and he finished sixth for the 2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or.
The season was marked by an incident in which Suárez was found guilty by the FA of racially abusing Patrice Evra during a game against Manchester United in October; he was given an eight-game suspension and a £40,000 fine.
After a 1–1 draw against Manchester United on 15 October 2011, Suárez was accused of racially abusing Evra, and the Football Association opened up an investigation into the incident. Suárez wrote on his Twitter and Facebook pages that he was upset by the accusation and denied the claims. On 16 November, the FA announced it would charge Suárez with "abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour contrary to FA rules", including "a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Patrice Evra." Liverpool later released a statement announcing Suárez would plead innocent, adding that they would "remain fully supportive" of him. On 20 December, the FA concluded a seven-day hearing, handing Suárez an eight-match ban and a £40,000 fine for racially abusing Evra.
In their next meeting in February, during the pregame handshakes, Suárez avoided shaking Evra's hand, for which Suárez and Dalglish were later forced to apologize. Suárez was also banned for one match for making an obscene gesture towards Fulham fans.
On 7 August 2012, Suárez signed a new long-term contract with Liverpool. On 26 August, he scored his first goal of the 2012–13 season in a 2–2 draw with champions Manchester City at Anfield. On 29 September 2012, Suárez scored a hat-trick in Liverpool's Premier League fixture away at Norwich City for the second consecutive season. On 17 November, he scored a brace, bringing his tally to 10 goals in 12 league games, as Liverpool defeated Wigan Athletic 3–0.
On 6 January 2013, Suárez handled the ball before scoring the decisive goal in Liverpool's 2–1 win over Mansfield Town from the Conference National in an FA Cup third round match. Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers defended his player by claiming that "it's not his job to own up", while Mansfield manager Paul Cox said that he felt "a little bit gutted" by the "instinctive" handball, but admitted that he would have accepted a goal scored like that by one of his players.
On 19 January, he scored his seventh goal in three matches against Norwich, as Liverpool cruised to a 5–0 home league victory. The following week, Suárez captained Liverpool for the first time for the FA Cup fourth round match against Oldham Athletic; Liverpool lost to Oldham 2–3. On 2 March, Suárez scored a hat-trick against Wigan, leading Liverpool to a dominant 4–0 victory at the DW Stadium. In doing so he became only the third Liverpool player to score 20 Premier League goals in a single season after Robbie Fowler and Fernando Torres. On 10 March, Suárez scored his 50th goal in all competitions since joining the Reds by grabbing the opener in a 3–2 home victory over Tottenham Hotspur ending Spurs' 12-match unbeaten run. He was also named man of the match for his performance after he won the decisive penalty which Steven Gerrard converted.
At the end of the season, Suárez was one of six players named on the shortlist for PFA Players' Player of the Year. Suárez finished second in the final ballot behind Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur and was named in the PFA Team of the Year. He was second-top goalscorer in the Premier League for 2012–13 with 23 goals and Liverpool's top scorer in all competitions with 30 goals. On May 28, 2013, he was named as Liverpool's player of the season after receiving 64 percent of votes in a poll of the club's supporters.
On 21 April 2013, in a 2–2 draw with Chelsea in a Premier League game at Anfield, he appeared to bite opposing player Branislav Ivanović. It was not noticed by the officials, and Suárez scored an equaliser in injury time. This was the second incident of its kind involving Suárez. He was charged with violent conduct by the FA and fined an undisclosed sum by his club.
Contrary to claims from Suárez, Ivanović did not accept an apology. Suárez accepted the violent conduct charge but denied the FA's claim that the standard punishment of three matches was clearly insufficient for his offence. A three-man independent panel appointed by the FA decided on a ten-game ban for Suárez, who did not appeal the ban; the panel criticised Suárez for not appreciating "the seriousness" of the incident when he argued against a long ban. The panel also wanted to send a "strong message that such deplorable behaviours do not have a place in football", while noting that "all players in the higher level of the game are seen as role models, have the duty to act professionally and responsibly, and set the highest example of good conduct to the rest of the game – especially to young players."
On 31 May 2013, Suárez said that he would be seeking an exit from Liverpool in the summer, citing the English media's intrusion into his private life as the reason for wanting to leave.
On 6 August, after Liverpool had rejected a bid of £40,000,001 for the player from Arsenal, Suárez reiterated his wish to leave Liverpool and claimed that the club had previously promised to allow him a transfer if the team failed to qualify for the 2013–14 UEFA Champions League. The following day, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers stated that Liverpool had not broken any promises to Suárez and that the player had shown "total disrespect" for the club. After this incident, the British press reported that Suárez had been instructed to train away from the Liverpool first-team squad by Rodgers. On 8 August, Liverpool owner John Henry stated that Suárez would not be allowed to leave the club.
On 14 August, Suárez appeared to reverse his position, with reports stating that he wanted to stay at the club and that he was possibly going to sign a contract extension, citing the support from Liverpool supporters as the reason for his unexpected turnaround. Two days later, Suárez returned to first-team training alongside his Liverpool teammates after apologising to his teammates for his public comments on wanting to leave.
On 25 September, Suárez returned to the Liverpool team after his suspension to make his first appearance of the 2013–14 season in a League Cup third round tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Suárez was in the starting line-up as Liverpool were beaten 1–0 by a 46th minute Javier Hernández goal. On 29 September, Suárez made his first Premier League appearance of the season, scoring twice as Liverpool beat Sunderland 3–1 at the Stadium of Light. On 5 October, Suárez made his first appearance of the season at Anfield, where he scored Liverpool's opening goal in a 3–1 win against Crystal Palace. On 26 October, he scored his fourth Premier League hat-trick, his first at Anfield, in a 4–1 defeat of West Bromwich Albion. According to the BBC, he has scored a hat-trick every 20.3 Premier League games, "the best rate of all 46 players to have scored more than one treble" in the top tier.
On 4 December, Suárez scored four goals against Norwich City in a 5–1 home win. He became the first player in Premier League history to score three hat-tricks against the same club, and took his scoring record against Norwich to 11 goals in five matches. On 15 December, Suárez captained Liverpool for the first time in a Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur. He scored twice and assisted once as the team recorded a 5–0 win at White Hart Lane to close the gap on league leaders Arsenal to two points. The following day, Suárez was named the Football Supporters' Federation Player of the Year for 2013. On 20 December, Suárez signed a new contract with Liverpool, which will keep him at the club until 2018.
On 1 January 2014, by scoring in a 2–0 home win over Hull City, Suárez became the first Liverpool player to score 20 or more goals in successive Premier League seasons since Robbie Fowler in 1994–95 and 1995–96. Suárez also became the joint-fastest player in Premier League history to reach 20 goals in a season. Andy Cole also scored his 20th goal on New Year's Day 1994 while with Newcastle United. By doing so in 15 matches, Suárez also broke the record for fewest matches played to reach 20 goals. His deadly stats at Liverpool along with his formidable partnership with Daniel Sturridge has earned them a nickname ‘SAS’ i.e Sturridge and Suárez.
On 1 March, Suárez made his 100th Premier League appearance, scoring in a 3–0 win over Southampton at St Mary's Stadium. In the following fixture, he scored his 25th league goal of the season as Liverpool beat Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time since 2009 by a convincing three goal margin. On 22 March, Suárez scored his sixth Premier League hat-trick, and third of the season, in a 6–3 win over Cardiff City at the Cardiff City Stadium. On 30 March, he broke Robbie Fowler's club record of 28 goals in a Premier League season in a 4–0 home win against Tottenham Hotspur which took Liverpool top of the league with six matches remaining.