It felt fitting that, 20 minutes into the final La Liga game of the season, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid were both losing.
All year, this has been the league title that no team has wanted to win. Atleti raced into an early lead and then got cold feet. Madrid launched themselves into the driving seat and then crumbled. Even Barcelona had a sniff at it with a handful of games to go, but then decided against joining the final day chaos.
And so, for Los Colchoneros to gift-wrap the trophy for Madrid by losing to Valladolid, only for Los Blancos to lose at home to Villarreal themselves, it all would have felt… right.
Of course, there was one greater narrative that couldn’t be ignored, and would inevitability decide which half of the Spanish capital would be partying into the small hours: Barça’s stupidity.
It’s been a real theme from the start to the end, even stretching back as far as the humiliating Champions League exit at the hands of Bayern and their loanee, Philippe Coutinho. Now, if I’d just watched my own player come off the bench against my own team and score twice in five minutes to round off an 8-2 drubbing, I’d probably look to avoid that kind of situation in the future.
So, what was going through the club’s mind when they decided to push Luis Suarez out of the door only six weeks later, and allow him to join fellow title rivals Atleti?!
Everyone who knows anything about how football works will have seen the announcement and thought: ‘yep, that one’s gonna come back to bite them.’
If you’re going to make an enemy out of any player in the world, why choose Suarez? Mental.
As he pulled away from the club’s headquarters in tears upon discovering that he had been deemed dispensable and unworthy of the Barça jersey, he would have sworn to get his vengeance in this life, and not the next.
And just as his season started with tears, it has ended in the very same fashion: with the Uruguayan forward sobbing uncontrollably on the turf – except, these were tears of joy.
After being written off in Catalonia, Suarez has scored 21 goals in 32 league appearances, including two in the last two games of the season to clinch a vital four extra points in their bid to become champions.
The only slight disappointment from Saturday’s 2-1 turnaround, was that we may not have truly appreciated the significance and the delicious irony of Suarez’s goal at the time. When the forward raced onto a misplaced pass at 1-1, bore down on goal and slotted home on 67 minutes, it felt more like the cherry on the cake than the decisive goal.
Madrid were one goal down to Villarreal in that moment, and after a difficult start, everything seemed to be plain-sailing for Diego Simeone’s side. Of course, the value of that strike came to light only at the final whistle, after los Blancos completed a late comeback of their own to leave Atleti one goal away from disaster.
Fortunately, they held on to deliver a hard-earned title to their supporters, and the value of that goal only grew with hindsight. Value. A funny word. One which Suarez used himself when discussing his treatment at the hands of Barcelona.
“Barcelona didn’t value me…they underestimated me and Atletico opened their doors to give me an opportunity,” as cited by Dermot Corrigan.
Painful words for Barça supporters to hear (especially while they still have Martin Braithwaite on the books), but an even more painful experience for the striker to endure. It’s no surprise then, that he has channelled all his energy into making Catalonia rue the day he was sent packing from the region.
Suarez’s contributions have been as clutch as they come for Atleti this year. Removing his 21 goals from the side would leave Los Colchoneros 21 points worse off. 21. And while they may have found some of those goals in another forward, would they have come at the key moments?
In the dying minutes of a match against Osasuna which was threatening to end in a 1-1 draw and take the title out of his side’s hands? Or in a must-not-lose clash with fellow title challengers Madrid? Or on the final day of the season, to potentially end a seven-year wait for a league title?
These are the moments only Suarez can truly thrive in. He remains, at 34 years of age, one of the most clutch strikers in world football.
And while some will sneer at the chances he tucks away and mutter, ‘anyone could have scored that’, they need only peek at the late opportunity spurned by Braithwaite in Barça’s 2-1 defeat to Celta Vigo, which mathematically ruled them out of the title race.
That is the difference. It’s not an exaggeration to say, that whichever team possessed Suarez at the start of this season would probably have gone on to win La Liga. Fortunately for Atleti, they placed their trust in him when Barça would not, and they have reaped the full rewards of El Pistolero.