EXCLUSIVE: Luis Suarez talks about Messi, Dembele, De Jong and Coutinho

The FC Barcelona striker sat down for an extensive interview with SPORT covering a variety of subjects

 Luís Suárez habló con SPORT de sus planes de futuro | Rubén Moreno

There are two sides to Luis Suarez. The footballer who plays with such intensity and the calm, relaxed speaker who tries to find comfort in the smallest things. The first side of him finished off a counterattack in the 89th minute to make it 5-1 against Sevilla. The second spoke to us a few hours after that epic comeback. 

Dídac Peyret

@didacpeyret

After such a frenetic comeback, can it be difficult to get to sleep? 

Yeah, well, it depends. There are times when it's easier to sleep and others time less so. The adrenaline is there and you can toss and turn but this time I slept quite easily. 

Are you someone who re-watches the game, his goals - do you have a routine?

It depends on the match I've had! Because there are times when you don't want to watch any of it back. Yesterday, for example, only my wife was awake and we spoke a little bit about the match. We do that sometimes. When I wake up I watch some TV, usually the news, and I focus on that and not about sport. I'm always thinking about getting up early so I can take the kids to school!

Is it difficult being Luis Suárez?

No. You try to be as normal as possible, being just another human in the world. I'm a father, a husband and I play football for a living. But I try to show people that I don't live in a different world. A lot of people think we don't have any idea of what's happening because we live in our own world. But I'm just a father who loves to spend time with his wife and children.

I heard you once say there are two versions of Luis Suarez: the footballer, who always appears angry, and the normal version: do those two versions of you still exist or have you changed?

[Laughing]. I'm still the same, ambitious footballer. I still play with that desire that I've been born with. That desire to win and the way I play is never going to change. But I've learnt a lot, more since I've lived in Barcelona. I'm trying to enjoy football a little bit more. 

"I'm used to playing with discomfort but I've had a pain-free month""

Did you play too angrily? 

Playing with intensity and aggression doesn't mean you are going around hitting and kicking people all the time. But those battles and arguments are who I am. Now I laugh and enjoy more with my teammates. That's changed, but the way I play won't ever be different. When I say that I'm different off the pitch it's because, if I'm angry off it, it has to be for a very big reason. On the pitch I get angry for the smallest things!

Puyol always said that after getting to know Pique it changed his perspetive on football and that he needed to enjoy life more. What influence has Leo had on you?

I think it's helped me to see how relaxed he is in matches. Sometimes I thought that you need to be focused the day before, or a few hours before the match. That's what happened with me at Liverpool, with the national team and all of my previous clubs. And I think to see the atmosphere here, to see everyone focused, knowing what they have to do, but in a more relaxed environment has helped me.

What about Neymar; more than in a footballing sense, what is the thing you miss most about him?

Obviously he was a player that, inside the dressing room, transmitted so much happiness. He was a teammate who always had a smile on his face. Like Brazilians in general. Of course i miss that but we made the change at that moment, that he wasn't going to be here, and we needed to fill that gap which he left.

Could you imagine him returning one day?

In football, I always say that you never know what could happen. Right now he's enjoying life in Paris a lot. His objectives are clear. But obviously, as a teammate, friend or a fan of football you want the best at your side. But this is hypothetical and you never know.  

But it's something which excites you…

Of coruse but he's a player that makes a difference. But you also need to remember that it was a complicated decision he made when he decided to leave. Just as it would be if he decided to return. 

Suárez hace el gesto habitual cuando marca | VALENTÍ ENRICH

For a lot of people Messi, the person, is a great mystery. But you've had the privlige of spending long trips with him: what do you talk about in Leo's car?

We don't only talk about football. We talk about the past, the future. We're humans that, aside from being teammates, we're good friends who have a lot in common. Not only that but sometimes our wives are doing things we're left alone. In my house or his drinking mate. We can be sat talking for two or three hours. But I always say this: a lot of people see him as Messi but for me, he's simply Leo. 

Do you watch matches together?

No, but we talk about a lot of situations in matches. The good as much as the bad because we're both self-criticial. There are days when the team wins and I feel frustrated because I didn't perform well. And Leo knows I'm in an argumentative mood. The same way I know when he's angry because he didn't have a good performance. 

"With Dembélé I got involved because I was once young too"

There's an urban legend going around about the moment in which you started to play as a '9' for Barça. Is true that Leo told you to do this?

[Smiling]. The system we had with Luis Enrique was for Leo to play as a false nine, getting rid of the traditional number ten. Neymar would go to one side and I would go to the other. But I was always tasked with coming inside and occupying that space between the centre back and the full back. It was after a match against Ajax. They sat really deep and of course, with Leo in that position, he wasn't finding much space and they put me in there. We made two really good plays and when I was about to go back out wide, Leo said: "If you want, you can stay here." As if he was asking me. I stayed in that position and it was later Luis Enrique who decided, after speaking to all three of us, to stick with it. "Would you like to keep playing that way?" With me as the '9'. We all said yes. And that's how it stayed.

Was there a lot of joking about this with Luis Enrique over the story?

No. I remember the moment in which Leo said that to me but it was a decision made with Luis Enrique. 

Now Neymar isn't here but Dembele is. His improvement in the last few months has been sensational. And players such as yourself have been involved and given advice to the Frenchman. What has Ousmane done which made you get involved?

Because he's young. He's young and had a lot of people tell him: you're going to be a superstar and everything will be great. But the reality is there's still so much to learn. That happened to me too. I had to live in that moment and what I have to do is support Ousmane. He's got a lot of players in the dressing room he can learn professionalism from. No one can teach Ousmane how to kick a ball because he already knows that. But another thing is how you work/train. He needs his routines to keep getting better. Obviously he's a player that is only getting started but I think he's going to be one of the best in the world.

He's a special player. Have you ever played with someone as fast as him?

No.

It's incredible the way he knocks the ball forward, isn't it?

It isn't that he hits the ball so far forward but at times we're on the counter and I can't get there in time! I'm not able to get there and Leo is even further behind of him. We said: "He goes really fast, we'll never catch him!" When he starts to run, we need to start further ahead of him to be there at the right now. If not, it's impossible to keep up.

Does a lack a bit of control?

The same as sometimes it looks as if he's lost the ball but he gets there. Maybe sometimes he doesn't know where to cross the ball. But he's a player that is helping is a lot.

Sometimes he's capable of scoring a memorable goal and in the next move misplace a simple pass inside. He's a player that can lose focus…

That's related to the moment in where you feel everything is going perfect. In that moment, you say to yourself: "I'm not going to lose the ball" and you make a simple mistake. 

In every season it appears difficult for you to start scoring at the start of the season and rumours begin about your future. Does it bother you when people are criticial of your performances that you've had with Barça?

Let's be clear, criticism is the order of the day. And more here, at Barcelona, with the expectations that exist. Everyone knows where they are and what is demanded from you every three days. If I don't score for one game, that's it. The doubt creeps in. You need to live with that all the time. Criticism doesn't hurt me because of the age I have, I know where I'm heading. What does hurt is if there's a comment from inside the club - and if they want to find a solution because I'm too old - and they don't come and say that to me. That would hurt me. But in reality, the criticism from journalists or people doesn't impact me. I know what I've got to do at Barcelona and the pressure we work under here. I'm used to it and I'll look to respond in the best way possible.. 

"We need to remove the pressure on De Jong; he doesn't need to come here to solve anything"

If you finished your career would you be happy? 

Yes. It's the desire of any player, to retire at the best club in the world would be the greatest thing. But knowing the difficulty of that happening because so many haven't done that. 

You've had problems with your knee for a while now. Are you used to playing with pain or has that discomfort gone away?

The truth is I don't want to talk about this topic because since the last break I haven't felt even the smallest bit of pain. And I don't want to think about it because I've had a pain-free month, looking after it and working hard to make sure it doesn't come back. The work we did for three to four months with the doctors has made me feel relaxed. I can't complain because I don't feel any pain at all. 

How did you maintain such a high life whilst playing with this discomfort?

Since August until November-December, I've been used to playing with pain. But this last month has been spectacular.

Let's talk about Coutinho. His performances has been poor until his goals against Sevilla. Do you think it's more to do with his position on the pitch or a question of confidence?   

I don't think it's because of his position because he's used to playing there. With Brazil he plays there and when I was with him at Liverpool too. Afterwards he changed his position a little but he knows how to play and can make the difference in matches.

Isn't he a bit irregular?

Yes, he goes through patches, but so do all of us. There are moments where, and I know because it's happened to me, that two or three moves don't work out. "Ah, nothing is going my way. I need to do it better." And that's the worst at times. But I believe Philippe has played in Europe for many years and he's shown the quality of footballer he is. I think you've been unfair with him. Especially after what he gave the club in his first six months here.

Do you think being a substitute has affected him? 

He came from the World Cup, where he was a starter, but later had an injury and that made it difficult for him. Ousmane was playign well and he accepted that without any issue. But now I believe he's in a good moment, adapting to the system and doing what the coach is asking of him.

There's a lot of talk about rejuvenating the squad and one of those new faces is Frenkie De Jong: Is the dressing room excited about the player's arrival next summer?

Yes, of course. He's a player the whole of Europe is talking about. We'll be waiting here with open arms because he's a great player but we also need to make sure he isn't under too much pressure. He's come to help the team but he needs to understand that he isn't here to solve anything either.

Did you have a chance to speak with Griezmann when there was speculation about him joining the club?

No. No. I only saw him during matches and later, through Godin, but I never spoke about that.

Do you know announcing the transfer like that could upset players such as Rakitic?

No, because they are players with a lot of experience. Iva, Arturo, Busi. It's the same with me. If they bring in a 22-year-old striker, I think that's great. It's another player who will learn and adapt to what is Barcelona. Everyone is conscious of the age they have.

Suárez, durante la entrevista | VALENTÍ ENRICH

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