Luis Suarez moving to Atletico Madrid and winning the league bears some resemblance to Johan Cruyff's shock move to Feyenoord.
A player being forced out of his team and then leading a rival side to glory is is the stuff of Hollywood dreams. Luis Suarez is currently living that dream. The striker, forced out of Barcelona for being too old and past his prime, led Atletico Madrid to La Liga glory on Saturday.
It is a fitting redemption tale for a player whose Barcelona career came to a premature end. Indeed, it says a lot about Barca’s actions that it made Suarez – a player known for literally biting his opponents and possessing a fierce win-at-all-cost mentality – seem sympathetic.
After all, this was a player whose time at the Catalan club was laden with trophies. He even broke the Pichichi (top goal scorer award) stranglehold of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for one season. That he was then essentially paid to leave is, even by modern football’s heartless nature, a shock.
Despite the tribal nature of football fandom, it is worth noting that players move between rival clubs a lot of the time. Many have even achieved success with said rivals. Yet very few are forced out, join a rival and then make their former side regret the move.
In that sense, Suarez’s move has paralells with that of another Barcelona legend: Johan Cruyff.
Cruyff is known to football fans for many things. His sheer genius on the pitch. His commitment to attacking football. Introducing the Cruyff turn. The influence his ‘Total Football’ philosophy had on both Ajax Amsterdam and Barcelona.
Yet when writing the tale of Cruyff, there is surprisingly little mention of the one season he spent at Ajax’s domestic rivals Feyenoord. Indeed, that was Cruyff’s final season as a professional.
The popular story is that Ajax refused to offer Cruyff a new contract when his deal ended in 1983. The actual story is a little different: Ajax did offer a contract, but it was on reduced terms.
Cruyff’s contract, besides including the standard pay, also included a percentage of the gate payments. Ajax’s new contract offer didn’t include the gate payments.
This angered Cruyff, who felt disrespected by a club he held so close to his heart. Now a free agent, he shocked everyone by signing for Feyenoord.
His signing was not universally popular among the Feyenoord faithful. His first home game for the new side saw hardcore fans put up banners which said ‘Feyenoord Forever, Cruyff Never’ and ‘Cruyff Get Lost’.
There were other banners too, most of which featured NSFW language. Indeed, news coverage showed many a Feyenoord fan rip up their season tickets in protest.
Yet no one can argue that the move was unsuccessful. Feyenoord went on to do the double, winning both the league and the domestic cup. The Eredivisie title win was their first in a decade.
Cruyff, deemed too old and past his prime, played all but 1 league game that season and was named the Dutch Footballer of the Year for the fifth time.
Suarez’s tale of departure is far more dramatic. Barcelona’s 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich meant heads were set to roll at the Nou Camp.
Then-president Josep Bartomeu hinted at selling certain players ahead of the new season, with Suarez constantly being one of those linked with a move.
The Uruguayan initially seemed bound for Juventus. However, they had filled out their non-EU players quota, meaning he had to take a citizenship test.
Issues with his a citizenship test – reports claimed it was rigged and an investigation followed – led to that move falling apart.
Scrambling for options, Suarez was contacted by Atletico. Suarez then began negotiations with Barca to have his contract terminated.
Amazingly, Barca had an agreement with Suarez that he would not leave to join certain clubs. This included Real Madrid, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.
Yet there was no mention of Atletico – the side Suarez now had his heart set on.
When news emerged that Suarez would join Diego Simeone’s side, Bartomeu attempted to renege on the deal but eventually kept his word.
Thus, Barcelona paid Suarez to terminate his contract a year before it was set to expire. The 6 million euros in variables they received from Atletico for the transfer, therefore, meant nothing in the long-term.
That’s not even looking at the sporting side of things. Suarez had scored at least 20 goals in all competitions in every season he spent at Barcelona. When he left, he was the side’s joint third-highest goalscorer. That he was then paid to leave is a disastrous decision for the ages.
When the transfer was confirmed, Messi slammed the club’s board for treating Luis Suarez the way they did. Little did he realise his old friend would also lead Barca’s rivals to another league title.