Luis Suarez always planned for Nacional return, but that doesn’t make homecoming any less surreal

A while back, someone painted the Nacional badge on a brick wall in front of Parque Central and wrote a message in the club’s red, white and blue colors. It’s not particularly polished work, the letters are unevenly sized, hastily drawn, and the badge is shaky, all rather crude, but somehow it’s better for it. And the message has something important in its simplicity. “I will always come back to see you,” they say.

Luis Suarez did it this week.

Sixteen years after leaving a heartbroken teenager and desperately following his girlfriend across the Atlantic, even if Groningen wasn’t exactly Barcelona, ​​Suarez has rejoined the club where his career began. He was 14 when he first came in, 18 when he left. He is now 35.

As he made his way to Parque Central for his presentation, a biplane flew by, followed by a banner that read “Suarez to Nacional” – the message that started out as a request, one of those crazy ideas nobody really believes in that they will happen was now a reality. Video of this was taken by Sofi, the girlfriend he left home for and the wife he returned with.

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Delfi, Benja and Lauti, their children, were there and many more, the effect was huge. That doesn’t really happen anymore. Some 20,000 tickets were sold to welcome back the boy, who made his debut for them in May 2005 and left the league the following summer after winning the league. Suarez received the number 9 shirt from Emmanuel Gigliotti, the forward, who said it was an “honour” to give it up. There was a message from Lionel Messi: “I know what it means for you to go home,” he smiled. A video featuring footage of Suarez from years ago at Nacional and beyond, accompanied by a track by Montevideo band No Te Va A Gustar. “Come home when you want,” it ran.

“I’m here because of you and because I wanted to,” Suarez told fans in the stands. “My wonderful children dreamed of me playing for Nacional.”

At least he had. And that, of course, was the point of this week, or at least part of it. Suarez left Salto at the age of seven, his family moved to Montevideo and lived in the La Comercial neighborhood. He didn’t know until many years later a man walking a dog stopped to chat with his brother purely by accident and without knowing who it was, but Obdulio Varela lived across the street – the two of them, I suppose Most important footballers in Uruguay’s history within barely 50 meters. His mother worked as a cleaner at the bus station; his father, from whom she had separated, worked where he could.

Just behind the house was a rough, narrow gravel path that they played on. It called that callejon — “The alley.” At one end was a lemon tree and at the other a women’s prison. Next to it was a children’s home, fenced in with barbed wire. It wasn’t always a great spot, especially after dark, but it was Great a place to be All along the way were workshops, metal shutters drawn down to provide gates. Or painted posts did the trick. There Suarez crashed out with everyone, chest out – a bit like now, really. When he joined local club Urreta, it was no less intense.

Suarez’ older brother Paolo, six years his senior, played – he would go on to build a successful career in Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as Uruguay. So does his younger brother Maxi. In fact, Luis claimed that Maxi was the better footballer, although he didn’t make it. Luis wanted to play for Nacional, the team he supported.

He would go to their games, although he also had to go to Penarol’s games because they were Maxis’ team – the family was pretty much split down the middle when it came to Uruguay’s great rivalry – and his mother insisted that she it had to go together. Even if that meant watching the “wrong” team for a few weeks, even though they got on each other’s nerves. Suarez recalled being confronted in the stands at one game by a Penarol fan who wanted to know why he wasn’t celebrating a goal. Under his trousers he wore Nacional socks, a small act of rebellion.

In the end, both would end up in Nacional’s youth division. Suarez may not have stayed there long. By his own admission, he wasn’t always the most dedicated, but Wilson Pires, who worked at the club and whom Suarez had often asked for the bus ticket to see Sofi, helped guide him. I warned him too. Paul too. And also Sofi, a kind of salvation, his be-all and end-all. More so, it turned out, than he expected.

When she was forced to leave with her family, everything changed: Suarez was gripped by desperation to make it and make it over there. Also as soon as possible. Her family had gone to Barcelona; It took him 10 years to get there, but Europe was calling.

So also home. He was a bolso. He watched Nacional and followed them. identified with them. He supported them, grew up with them, played for them. There is a beautiful photo where the Panamanian striker “El pistolero” — the original pistolero — Jose Luis Garces is being led across the field in triumph, and the boy on whose shoulders he is riding is Suarez.

He was one of them.

That’s why the response to his coming home was so great, but not the only reason. It’s also because of that he grew so big that her husband did it over there, someone to follow, to celebrate, to claim. When he first joined the Nacional side, he missed a lot of chances and took a lot of abuse. They called him a donkey with wooden legs, but he became insanely successful: Groningen, Ajax Amsterdam, Liverpool, Barcelona, ​​​​Atletico Madrid, the national team. He has scored 520 professional goals. His are absurd numbers; He’s an absurd footballer.

And yet sometimes it can still feel like it’s a little underrated. That doesn’t mean he is Not evaluated – he is – and there are good reasons for resistance; Everyone knows that, he most of all. But still it is sometimes noticeable that what he did is no longer made into the player he was. At least outside of Uruguay. And actually a question: maybe also outside of Atletico, where a short stay had a big impact?

He won five La Liga titles in seven years in Spain. He almost won the Premier League with Liverpool and no it wasn’t a solo effort but ask what the fans at Anfield think and they’ll tell you that’s not too far off the mark, that they do something you haven’t really seen yet. He was a two-time European Golden Boot winner, with two very different teams. He was the only player to be Spain’s top scorer, alongside Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo 11 years – going back to his Uruguayan compatriot Diego Forlan.

In 2015/16 he scored 40 goals. Only Messi and Ronaldo have ever scored more goals; since then no one has made it. Only two men have ever scored more Barcelona goals. He averaged 20+ league goals each season for four years and then had one abominable year he scored 16. For nine years he scored no fewer than 20 goals a season in all competitions. And have you ever seen someone like him volley? The end at Barcelona came with a short phone call, barely 30 seconds; when the time was right, it wasn’t the fashion that spurred him on.

He went to Atlético. He was done, they said; On the final day of season one, he sat in tears and phoned his family after scoring the goal that gave them the league title. That Gates, Plural. This year it was 21. Even last year when they decided he couldn’t continue as he watched from the side, it was as many as anyone else. Show him some posts callejon or Camp Nou, and he will place the ball between them. When he left, there were tears, applause and recognition in the Metropolitano: a banner thanked him for “making us champions”.

At 35, knees like they are, maybe it was about time. But there is a World Cup, a goal, a last shot after 15 years and 68 goals with the national team. Pride was there too. A propensity to stay in Europe first proves a point. But then another idea began to emerge, to take shape. What happened if? In the Parque Central, they accepted it and campaigned for it. It was good for them both economically and emotionally: 4,000 new subscribers to Nacional TV, 5,000 shirts gone on the first day alone. Turns out he hugged it too.

There were good, practical reasons for this, professional and personal. There were opportunities and even talks – Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund, River Plate, clubs in Mexico, Brazil and Turkey – that didn’t materialize. Agreements could not always be made economically or contractually. Some offers, like the handful from Turkey, brought upheaval. Brazil puts long periods on the road. The US season was already underway. The summer went on, nothing was decided yet, the timing was just right for Nacional.

A six-month contract, fighting for trophies at short notice, preparing for the World Cup and being there without having to fly far back for every meeting: that was an attractive offer. Home was too; the warmth, the feeling of being wanted. The family. Forget the money, let’s do this. It didn’t seem entirely believable at first, but then it happened. And then somehow it still didn’t feel entirely believable, judging by the backers’ reaction, the size of it all. This makes the presentation feel special, almost unbelievable, but also somehow predetermined. As if this homecoming would always happen, it came full circle.

When the video played clips of him all those years ago, Suarez was standing on a stage in the middle of Parque Central, looking at the screen. In one video, Delfi, almost the age he joined the club, says, “Hey dad, I’m glad you’re here, where you wanted to be, where it all started when you were very little.” In another he appears, still a child, saying, “The time will come to return.” And then there’s the clip of him at Melwood, Liverpool’s training ground. Older now. “I would like to return to Nacional one day,” he said.

Now he was back, that day had come. Luis Suarez always planned for Nacional return, but that doesn’t make homecoming any less surreal

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