When coach and player first spoke by phone, Simeone detected “the energy, the hunger, the defiance” that have not only characterized Suárez, but that also were Simeone’s finest attributes as a player. Most of all, though, Simeone felt that Suárez had something to prove. “He had a desire to show that he is still relevant,” the coach said.
It is tempting to ascribe Suárez’s form in Madrid to the re-ignition of that inner fire. He has always, after all, given the impression that he is at his best when he has something or someone to rage against, whether it is an opponent, an authority or, in this case, simply the dying of the light. “Some did not believe I was still capable of playing at the top level,” Suárez said this week.
And yet it is possible, too, to believe that the opposite is true: that Suárez has found himself again not in war, but in peace.
His former international teammate Sebastián Abreu told the Spanish newspaper El País this week that he believed Barcelona had, in Suárez’s final year with the club, “mounted a campaign where they identified Luis as the problem with everything, together with Lionel Messi.” Suárez, judging by his public comments, seems to agree with that assessment.
With Atlético, by contrast, he has not only encountered a coach who — as Abreu put it — “knows perfectly how to treat a player,” he has also found a club that is not “blaming Suárez for every situation, and so that has liberated him to enjoy playing soccer completely.” Without battles to fight off the field, he has been able to dedicate himself once again to winning them on it.
Just as crucially, he has found himself on a team prepared to offer him the support he needs to do so. Just as Atlético has revived Suárez, so he has revived Atlético. Simeone had always regarded Suárez as the finest pure striker in the world, but he was aware that he was, in his mid-30s, no longer able to play on the counterattack quite so devastatingly as he had, say, with Liverpool in his mid-20s.