Luis Suarez’s rise from the streets of Montevideo to Liverpool FC hero

New Liverpool FC signing Luis SuarezIn the first of a two-part special feature James Pearce charts the rise to fame of Liverpool’s new Kop idol Luis Suarez.

TRY telling Luis Suarez that romance in football is dead.

Fernando Torres claimed the love had gone on his arrival at Stamford Bridge last week but Liverpool’s new No 7 remains smitten with the beautiful game.

“A smiley kind of guy,” was Kenny Dalglish’s description of the 24-year-old frontman who cost £22.8million from Ajax on transfer deadline day.

Delve into his past and you understand why. Suarez’s is the classic rags to riches story.

A player who once had to reject the chance to attend a Uruguay youth team training camp because he couldn’t afford a pair of boots has had to fight tooth and nail for everything he has achieved.

Born in the Uruguayan city of Salto on January 24 1987, Luis Alberto Suarez Diaz, was the middle child of seven.

With his mother bringing up seven boys on her own after his parents split up, money was tight and life was tough.

When he was seven he moved to Montevideo and it was on the dusty streets of the capital that Suarez developed his skills.

“I had a really hard time growing up,” admits Suarez, whose 30-year-old brother Paolo plays professionally for Isidro Metapan in El Salvador.

“As you can imagine coming from a large family, we did not have many resources at home, which meant we had to carry on with a very normal life, full of sacrifices.

“When I was seven I moved to Montevideo, where my football career began. That was the first big change in my life, and since then I have faced many other big changes.

“I started playing football when I was very young and by the age of four I would run faster with the ball than without it.”

When he was 11 Suarez was invited to a national youth training camp in La Plata, Argentina, but was forced to turn down the offer.

“All my dreams had come true but it was too expensive so I had to decline because I didn’t even have enough money to buy a pair of shoes,” he said.

“It wasn’t until I was 14 that I started playing football seriously when I was selected by Nacional de Montevideo.”

After signing for the most successful club side in Uruguay football history, he made rapid progress through the ranks.

Once caught drinking and partying until the early hours, the teenager was swiftly brought back into line by an ultimatum from his youth team coach.

“Either you train like your team-mates or I will never pick you again,” he was warned.

It did the trick.

By 16 he was part of the first team squad and on May 3 2005 he made his Nacional debut against Junior de Barranquilla in the Libertadores Cup.

Suarez went on to play a key role with 12 goals in 29 appearances as Nacional clinched the 2006 domestic title.

However, despite his joy at clinching a first piece of silverware, there was something missing in his life.

His girlfriend Sofia, who is now his wife, had moved from Uruguay to Barcelona and a burning desire to be closer to her meant he jumped at the chance to move to Dutch side Groningen that summer.

A number of European clubs had been alerted to his talents but Groningen moved fast to snap the 19-year-old up for 800,000 euros.

“My happiness (after winning the title with Nacional) was not complete,” Suarez said. “Sofia and I had to continue a long distance relationship for a year. Despite this complication I could not give up on our relationship and when I got a call to play in Europe I didn’t think twice.

“The only thing I thought about was being by her side again. That’s how my European adventure started.

“I went to play for Groningen in the Netherlands when I was only 19 but I had the girl of my life Sofia back next to me.

“At the beginning it was not easy at all. At that time I was not able to speak Dutch or English and communicating was incredibly hard. To add to this I needed some time to adjust to the Dutch league and I had to play with the second team of Groningen.”

The presence of fellow countryman Bruno Silva helped him settle and Suarez was soon proving himself to be a bargain buy.

He scored on his European debut against Partizan Belgrade and struck up a successful strike partnership with former Manchester United frontman Erik Nevland.

His eagerness to learn Dutch endeared him to team-mates and supporters alike.

“I always had clear in my mind that I was not going to give up and that I would soon enough have an opportunity to prove myself,” he said.

“I kept on fighting and working hard. It was incredible to believe that I was playing for a first division team in the Netherlands.

“When I look at my past I think about all my friends growing up, all the dirt fields and streets of Montevideo that I had played on, but I can’t help but to feel very proud of what I have achieved.”

During his first season in Europe he netted 17 times in 37 games as Groningen finished eighth in Eredivisie.

Suarez’s progress had also been noted back home and on February 8 2007 he made his Uruguay debut in a 3-1 win over Colombia. However, the occasion was marred when he was sent off late on after receiving a second yellow card for dissent.

A month earlier he had also seen red for Groningen and disciplinary problems would continue to dog the talented striker with a fiery temper.

By the end of his first year in Holland he had adjusted so well that Ajax were determined to secure his services.

In the summer of 2007 the Dutch giants were looking to replace Ryan Babel, who had left for Anfield, and decided Suarez was their man.

The deal was far from straightforward. Much to Suarez’s disgust, Groningen rejected Ajax’s initial bid of 3.5million euros.

The striker appealed to the Dutch Football Association’s arbitration committee to try to force through the transfer but lost the case.

However, on August 9 2007 – the same day the verdict was announced – the clubs announced they had struck a deal worth 7.5million euros.

Suarez had got his move to Ajax and penned a five-year contract.

“It was a dream come true and a huge step forward in my career,” he said. “Of course without thinking twice, I moved to Amsterdam.”

The boy from Salto had made it in Europe but the adventure had only just begun.

LUIS SUAREZ has guaranteed goals and controversy in equal measure since he arrived at Ajax in the summer of 2007.

After securing his move to the Dutch capital, the Uruguayan wasted little time repaying the 7.5million euros they had handed to Groningen for his services.

The striker scored on his league debut against newly promoted De Graafschap and repeated the trick on his home bow, netting twice against Heerenveen at the Amsterdam Arena.

A creator as well as a prolific scorer, he formed a lethal partnership with Dutch international Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and finished the season with 20 goals in 40 appearances.

After Euro 2008, Ajax legend Marco van Basten was appointed coach and Suarez continued to shine. He netted 22 times in 31 league games to finish as the Eredivise's second top scorer.

The talent of a player nicknamed El Pistolero (The Gunfighter) was unquestionable but it wasn't just his strike rate which made headlines.

Fans loved his passion and desire to succeed but his fiery temper frequently landed him in trouble.

On one occasion Ajax suspended him after a half-time bust-up with team-mate Albert Luque over a botched free-kick routine.

A flurry of bookings, including a number for diving, angered Van Basten who threatened to fine the striker.

“Suarez is extremely important to us and is involved in almost all the goals that we score but he harms us too with all those yellow cards,” he said.

His relationship with Van Basten was tense but the manager didn't want to tame him too much.

“Luis is unpredictable, he’s hard to influence but that makes him special,” he admitted.

Van Basten departed in May 2009 after failing to secure Champions League qualification and was replaced by Martin Jol.

One of the former Spurs boss' first decisions was to appoint Suarez as club captain following the departure of Thomas Vermaelen to Arsenal.

It was reward for Suarez's vow to stay with the club and Jol's way of highlighting his worth to the side.

The appointment proved inspired as Suarez improved his discipline, matured as a player and enjoyed a remarkable campaign.

“Martin made me a better player,” Suarez said. “He made me feel important.”

His new found responsibility increased with marriage to long-term girlfriend Sofia and the birth of their first daughter Delfina last year.

“She has filled our life with happiness like we have never experienced before,” Suarez said.

With Huntelaar having moved on to Real Madrid, Suarez found a new strike partner in 6ft Serbian Marko Pantelic.

They complimented each other well and in the 2009/10 season Ajax netted 106 league goals and Suarez got 35 of them but they were pipped to the title by Steve McClaren's FC Twente.

However, there was the consolation of lifting the Dutch Cup and in all competitions the frontman finished with 49 goals in 48 games, making him the top scorer in Europe.

Suarez, whose tally included six in one Cup clash against lowly WHC Wezep, was named Dutch Footballer of the Year and arrived at last summer's World Cup finals in South Africa on the crest of a wave.

Oscar Tabarez's squad had only narrowly qualified for the tournament after edging past Costa Rica in a play-off but Suarez ensured Uruguay made a big impression.

He scored the winner against Mexico to ensure they topped Group A and then netted twice in a victory over South Korea in the last 16.

That set up a quarter-final with Ghana. It was 1-1 late in extra time when Suarez blatantly handled Dominic Adiyah’s goalbound header.

That set up a quarter-final with Ghana. It was 1-1 late in extra time when Suarez blatantly handled Dominic Adiyah’s goalbound header.

Suarez saw red but Asamoah Gyan missed the spot-kick and Uruguay won 4-2 on penalties.

To Uruguayans celebrating reaching the semi-finals for the first time since 1970 Suarez was a hero but to those fuming at the injustice he was merely a cheat.

Suarez, who has scored 16 goals in 38 internationals, was banned for Uruguay's defeat to Holland in the last four but returned for the third and fourth place play-off match against Germany.

For someone who doesn't seek the limelight, it was an uncomfortable episode as he was condemned by FIFA.

“At the time I was with the rest of the squad so it was easy to close my eyes and ears to any criticism,” he said.

“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..”

Less well publicised is Suarez's charity work which took up much of his spare time in South Africa.

“I care about social inequality,” he said. “Whenever I can I love being active part of organisations that promote solidarity projects.

“Football has got this tremendous power of joining people, without any skin, religion and social discrimination.”

Suarez returned to Amsterdam for a fourth season with Ajax and the red mist descended in the Dutch Super Cup match against Twente last July as he was dismissed for a two-footed tackle on Cheikh Tiote, who is now at Newcastle.

A month later the smile was back on his face. In a Champions League qualifier against PAOK Salonika he notched his 100th goal for the club. He joined the likes of Johan Cruyff, Van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp in reaching the landmark.

However, by November he was making headlines again for all the wrong reasons.

During a goalless draw with rivals PSV Eindhoven he bit Otman Bakkal on the shoulder in retaliation after his foot was stood on.

Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf labelled him the “Cannibal of Ajax” and Suarez responded by uploading a video to his Facebook page apologising for his actions.

"Normally I’m calm,” Suarez said. “But I was a little tired, I’d done a lot of travelling.”

His excuses cut no ice with the Dutch FA and he was punished with a seven-game domestic ban.

During his suspension Jol departed and was replaced by Frank de Boer but Suarez never played for the new manager.

After learning of Liverpool's interest early last month, the striker had his heart set on a move to Anfield.

Following lengthy negotiations a £22.8million deal was agreed and Suarez penned a five-and-a-half year deal with a ringing endorsement from the Dutch giants he left behind.

His spell in Amsterdam had yielded 111 goals in 159 appearances as well as a notable 56 assists.

“Luis arrived here with a decent reputation but he was not a big player then," said Ajax managing director Rik van den Boog.

"In the dressing room he soon stood up and became a leader. That's why he was special.

"We'll remember him for his incredible amount of goals and what he has done for the club. Our fans were crazy about him.”

Having enjoyed a dream debut against Stoke, the Reds' new No 7 is already on course to enjoy the same kind of cult following at Anfield.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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