the hymn of love / One day, one shift / Episode 38 / SOFOOT.com

This summer during the transfer window, So Foot returns every weekday in a shift that marks its time in its own way. For this 38e episode, throwback to 2006, the year Luis Suárez left his Nacional and his native Uruguay to try his luck at FC Groningen, a club he had never heard of. A choice that was motivated only by the desire to find his spouse, who lived in Barcelona a few months ago.

Luis Suárez probably doesn’t know Damien Sargue or Cécilia Cara. However, he can only agree with the words sung by the two interpreters of Romeo and Juliet in the music of the same name: “Love is stronger than anything else. Give, the best to us. To love, and to feel his heart. To love, to be less afraid » . If she never gets a chance to dance The Kings of the worldthe Uruguayan striker may have read the written version of William Shakespeare or seen the film West Side Story by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. There are so many stories where two protagonists do everything possible to keep their love alive while their families hate each other. A priori, Luis Suárez’s family has never fought with his lover Sofía Balbi. However, like Romeo and Juliet or like Maria and Tony, Luis and Sofia will do everything to ensure that their love story continues despite the move of the Balbi family from Montevideo to Barcelona. Do everything, like leaving to fill the ranks of FC Groningen.

You want to see Elias, you see Luis

When Hans Nijland, general manager of Groningen, and Henk Veldmate, technical director of the Dutch club, landed in Uruguay in the summer of 2006, they had already heard this young striker from Nacional sweetly called name of Luis Suárez. However, it was not for him that the two men landed in the capital of Uruguay, but for one Elias Figueroa, who plays for Liverpool Montevideo and who hit the youth team of Celeste. But even if it meant being in Montevideo, Hans and Henk told themselves that it wouldn’t cost much to go and see what Luis Suárez had to offer on a football pitch. They did not regret their choice as they saw the future Barça striker clear two defenders with a trick before rolling a left-footed shot into the top corner and celebrating with a kiss on the badge in the direction of the audience. It didn’t take much for both men to win, as Veldmate said later Bleacher Report : “Sometimes he’s a little lucky, or he seems to be a little luckier, except that we quickly realized that it’s not luck, but quality. He knows exactly what to do when he is in the penalty area. He always creates something on his way to the goal. We are sure he has something special” .

Europe in sights


Problem: the agent of the Uruguayan striker does not make it easy for the Dutch. Because at that time he was in Milan, therefore on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and above all because he asked for 4.2 million euros in exchange for his jewel. It was enough to bring a smile to the faces of the two men who came to meet him in Milan and who had an envelope of one million euros to recruit Figueroa. As a result, Nijland and Veldmate returned to Groningen empty-handed. Until a phone call came to make them smile a week later: “Mr. Nijland, can we go to Groningen on Monday to discuss Luis Suárez? » To understand this change, you have to go back to 2002 when the Uruguayan striker fell in love with Sofía Balbi, whom he met at a disco when he was twelve and she was fifteen. The two lovebirds then lived in perfect love, Luis Suárez even often turned to his in-laws to escape a complicated family environment, until the Balbi family was forced to flee to Barcelona due to the economic crisis which erupted in Uruguay.

To listen to the brother, Maxi, at number 113 of SoFoot, on this day that Luis made football his priority: “He came back from the airport with a big tiger. He threw himself on the bed, his head on the mattress. It stayed like that for six hours. When he got up, his eyes were red and swollen. When Sofia was in Spain, she was devastated and cried all the time. I thought I would never see him again. Because of him, his ass moved. » With one goal: to unite the professional team of Nacional to attract European recruiters. So, when his mission was successful and those in Groningen approached his agent, he quickly asked the latter to ensure that this transfer would not fail, and it would be bad if he did not know about the club that saw Arjen Robben hatched as he trusted. BRAND years later: “When I was told that I have the possibility to go to Groningen, the first thing I did was to look on the Playstation where the club plays and what jersey the players wear. It’s a big step to get closer to Sofia because she lives in Barcelona. . But, again, not everything will be clear, although after three days of negotiations – during which Luisito was waiting in a hotel room in Amsterdam – and a few glasses thrown on the floor due to tension, the transfer of Suárez of FC Groningen recorded for 1.585 million euros. Even a great amount of time for the Dutch club.

The weight of the conflict

FC Groningen may have invested a handsome fortune in Luis Suárez, but the Dutch club is not looking to cut corners on the 19-year-old striker. Especially since the main interested party has a few extra pounds. The coach at the time, Ron Jans, refused to integrate him into the team until he reached the 82 kilos that Luisito trusted in the magazine. held : “Ron checks my weight every day” . While waiting for the scales to show the right number, Suárez – who can count on the support of his compatriot Bruno Silva, seven years older than him, to more easily integrate into new habits and customs – makes in his debut with the U23s, where he was more talked about for his mistakes than his goals. While the leaders of Groningen began to doubt a player who was considered individualistic, Luis Suárez would finally get everyone to agree. First, on September 14, 2006, during a UEFA Cup match on Partizan’s turf, the future lover of Anfield reduced the score with a beautiful header nineteen minutes after entering the stakes.

A goal that would not qualify Groningen, but that would allow Suárez to start against Sparta Rotterdam three days later – decisive passer of the only goal of the meeting – and never leave this role. His masterpiece came against Vitesse on the 1ster October 2006. Trailing 3-1 at home ten minutes from the end, Groningen understood that Suárez would not be home long. A penalty then a double in two minutes, Groningen won 4-3 and Luisito made a name for himself across Europe. Especially in the Netherlands, where Ajax snapped it up a year ago against 7.5 million euros. Others, everyone knows this 2009-2010 season with 35 goals and 16 assists in 33 Eredivisie games, this hand against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup, this transfer to Liverpool, this Golden Boot in 2014 thanks to his 31 goals in The Premier League, this 2014 World Cup ended with a bite of Giorgio Chiellini, this transfer to Barça, the Champions League raised in 2015, this season to of 40 goals in 2015-2016, the MSN with Messi and Neymar, this Liga was obtained with Atlético de Madrid and finally his return this summer to Nacional, where it all began. Except that this time, with his wife Sofía Balbi and his three children he returned to Uruguay. In the end, this love story ends better than Romeo and Juliet.

By Steven Oliveira

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