"A smiley kind of guy," is how Kenny Dalglish described Luis Suarez. A smiley kind of guy who stole the World Cup from Africa with a handball. A smiley kind of guy who, as Ajax and PSV Eindhoven players were debating a sending-off, leaned over and bit his opponent Otman Bakkal, earning a suspension that ensured he never played football in Holland again.
Those are the headlines that accompanied him to Liverpool, the searches that Google will always reveal. And yet on Wednesday night against Stoke, Anfield saw the other side of the 24-year-old from Salto, Uruguay's second city that nestles on the border with Argentina.
First there was a delicious back-heel and then the sprint on to Dirk Kuyt's long pass, a goalkeeper left stranded, a defender's desperate lunge and a goal on his first appearance for Liverpool, just as he scored on his league debut for Ajax – one of more than 100 strikes.
Suarez does not want to dwell on the bite he gave Bakkal. "I am not used to this kind of thing – press conferences, cameras and flashbulbs. Regarding Bakkal I have made a few statements, enough not to have to talk about it now." He is more forthcoming when describing the moment in the final seconds of Uruguay's World Cup quarter-final in Johannesburg when he palmed away Dominic Adiyiah's header on the line. He was sent off but the pressure of sending Ghana through to become Africa's first World Cup semi-finalists was too much for Asamoah Gyan, who blasted the penalty over the bar.
From Cape Bon in Tunisia to the Cape of Good Hope, Ghana's exploits had united Africa like little else. Suarez became an instant villain despite the fact that it would be hard to imagine any footballer doing anything else. Had it been John Terry, the headlines would have been of "taking one for the team". Suarez says: "At the time I was with the rest of the squad so it was easy to close my eyes and ears to any criticism. As time has gone by, I have had time to reflect on the whole episode and I can now understand the controversy that it has caused. It was something that happened in the heat of the moment. It happened, and it happened to me."
Uruguay had been based in the diamond town of Kimberley, and Suarez is a diamond footballer; he is hard and he sparkles. He was brought up by a single mother and, as Dalglish pointed out: "He went to Holland and learned Dutch, which they tell me is not easy – I find English difficult. And he captained Ajax. For a foreigner to be captain of Ajax tells you something about the guy."
Naturally, there are comparisons with his international strike partner, Diego Forlan, who performed everywhere except at Manchester United. "I spoke to Diego about football in England and the first thing he said to me was to be patient," Suarez said. "It would be a different type of football to the one that I had experienced before. Nothing I had seen before would prepare me for the way the Premier League is. But I think it will be different for me than it was for Diego. He was a young lad when he arrived here and he came from playing in Argentina. It is easy to see why it was tough for him. I am more experienced than he was and I am coming from Holland so I have a little bit more knowledge of how Europeans do things.
"My debut was amazing, just watching from the bench, but when I came on... well, in England if you take longer than a split-second to think about what you are going to do, then the ball is gone."Reuse content