Luis Suárez, disrupting football’s natural order

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 03: Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's seventh goal during the Copa del Rey Semi Final first leg match between FC Barcelona and Valencia at Nou Camp on February 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 03: Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's seventh goal during the Copa del Rey Semi Final first leg match between FC Barcelona and Valencia at Nou Camp on February 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images) /

Luis Suarez has always stood out. Now he’s doing so as perhaps the best footballer on the planet, disrupting the sport’s natural order.

Luis Suárez has never been one to follow the road well taken. The Uruguayan has had controversy follow him wherever he goes, and it’s a reputation that has somewhat haunted his fine footballing career.

The current Barcelona number nine has turned that around somewhat, and has begun to repair the damage incidents of biting and racism have caused in a tumultuous few years.

In that time, Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi have dominated the footballing landscape. Whilst Suárez has spent a significant part of the last six years serving suspensions and fighting ongoing controversy, the two main men in football have been sharing the sport’s major honours.

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Since 2008, the FIFA World Player of the Year award has only been won by the Portuguese or the Argentine. It has been wondered by the footballing world when this would change, as their dominance is all they have known for almost a decade.

A somewhat historic campaign though by Suárez indicates a changing in the natural order of football’s elite. He finished with 55 goals in open play (59 total), tied for the second most ever scored. The world’s top two players may no longer be so certain of their positions at the top, and Messi’s club teammate may have overtaken him as the current number one.

Suárez’s emergence began in 2013/14, when he scored 31 goals (and 21 assists) in just 33 Premier League games to become just the fourth player in Premier League to score 30 or more goals in a single season. The only other player to do it since 2000? Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007/08.

The following summer amidst yet another controversy at the World Cup Suárez signed for Barcelona in a huge £75 million move. His first campaign in Catalunya was a rousing success, when he bagged 25 goals and 24 assists in 43 appearances.

The former Liverpool’s man establishment at the top of world football may have happened sooner, if not for the controversies that have shrouded his career. Suspensions have damaged his reputation in football (for some permanently), and the list of his transgressions are not small:

  • July 2nd, 2010: sent off for Uruquay at the World Cup Quarter Finals for a handball on a goal bound shot against Ghana, who’d go on to lose the game on penalties.
  • November 20th, 2010: seven match ban for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal.
  • October 25th, 2011: accused of racially abusing Patrice Evra, resulting in a eight match suspension and £40,000 fine.
  • April 21st, 2013: suspended 10 games for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic.
  • June 24th, 2014: in another World Cup incident, Suárez bites Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder. He was suspended for 4 months and 7 games for Uruguay.

Those later incidents would disrupt his 2013/14 and 2014/15 league campaigns. He missed six domestic fixtures beginning the 2013/14 campaign, then the first eleven in 2014/15. If not for those incidents, it’s a very good chance his rise to the top would have happened faster.

Reputation more than anything else has held Suárez back in previous seasons from him being the undisputed third best player in the world the past couple of seasons. Now it is time to start accepting he is pushing for the number one spot in 2015/16:

Goals Per 900.851.091.130.630.96
Assists Per 900.500.320.500.560.36
G+A Per 901.351.411.631.191.32

Looking at it from a raw numbers perspective, it is the Uruguayan that came out on top. He has scored the most goals as well as the highest average, created the second most goals and again is second on average.

Being that Ronaldo and Messi are the longstanding world’s number one and two, there’s the natural assertion that all this couldn’t possibly be true. For example, it can be claimed that Ronaldo is a better finisher and more of a predator in the box.

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In fact though when returning to the numbers, they do not agree. Suárez has scored more goals (59 to 51) with less shots per game (3.8 to 6.7) and therefore, less shots per goal (2.9 to 6.7), and the Barcelona hitman has also scored every single one of his La Liga goals inside the box. He’s the definition of a fox in the box.

He’s adjusted to being relieved of free kick and penalty duties in Catalunya (something he had as part of his arsenal at Liverpool) and has found ways to become even more effective. Being in a superior team helps of course, but that doesn’t singularly explain the way he has outproduced every single one of his teammates and rivals.

The Uruguayan is also a superior finisher to the reigning World Player of the Year Messi, who averages 4.9 shots per game and 5.8 shots per goal. The Argentine has become more of a creator the past two seasons under Luis Enrique, and no longer plays in such a goal heavy role sitting slightly behind Suárez on the right side of the attack.

Suárez’s impact has been so great though that he is now overshadowing Messi in every facet. They average the same amount of assists per game (0.5), and Suárez’s raw production is greater than his teammate and friend.

Suárez is responsible in both goals and assists for 51 percent (56 of 109) of Barcelona’s goals domestically, whilst Messi (in two less games, for the record) is responsible for 39 percent. That’s a considerable difference. For comparison, Neymar ranks in at 33 percent, whilst Cristiano Ronaldo is responsible for 43 percent of Real Madrid’s goals.

In Europe’s biggest competition the disparity continues, where Suárez has contributed to 50 percent of his teams goals. Messi and Neymar both claim 32 percent, whilst Ronaldo has carried Real Madrid to the final with a whopping 77 percent. It is the only category that Suárez has actually not led, which is phenomenal within itself.

Football has been spoiled for years under the brilliance of it’s star men. Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi are two once in a generation players in the same era, and now they are joined by the incredible performances of Luis Suarez.

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If this season is anything to go by, he is currently ahead of them in the pecking order. The Uruguayan represents the disruption of the natural order.