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Suarez restores Barca as European football powerhouse

By scoring the decisive goal in the Champions League final Suarez restored Barca as the predominant powerhouse of European football

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When Barcelona chart the treble-winning success of this season they should make one crucial distinction: pre-Luis Suarez and post-Luis Suarez. While Lionel Messi will rightfully go down as the defining star of an astonishing campaign, the addition of the Uruguayan forward proved the catalyst for yet another Catalan dynasty.

By scoring the decisive goal in the Champions League final Suarez restored Barca as the predominant powerhouse of European football - finally clinching the prize personally craved for so long. Suarez recognised that for all their gushing adoration and idolisation Liverpool were not a club capable of delivering such a triumph - and so he found one that could.

At times Suarez has been a figure of sheer, indefensible pig-headedness. Like when he racially abused Patrice Evra during a match four years ago, or when he bit an opponent - the first, second and third time. Some Liverpool fans might look upon his bullishness in forcing a move away from Merseyside in similar regard, but such resolve was vindicated with victory in Berlin - and the Liga/Copa double triumph that went before too.

Astonishing debut

However, while Suarez capped an astonishing debut campaign at Barca with Champions League final elation, his season was one of process, adaptation and evolution not always on his terms. Many questioned upon his arrival at the club how three such mercurial, marquee talents - Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez - could play together in the same team. It was a question that must have been pondered by the Uruguayan himself.

Of course, Suarez was made to wait four months and 10 matches - as he served the ban meted out for the World Cup bite on Giorgio Chiellini - for his Barcelona debut, taking six games to score his first goal. The 28-year-old didn’t always look the most natural of fits - and there were certainly times of struggle, most notably around a tumultuous winter spell. But even still, the Camp Nou crowd could see what was coming.

There were fleeting glimpses of an innate understanding between the front three of Suarez, Neymar and Messi, and yet the former Liverpool man was initially something of a misfit. The hard-work was always there - running further, faster and for longer than anyone else - and while the goals were not flowing, the acclaim of the Barca support remained. All fans appreciate the effort of their players - even those who celebrate winning more than most.

Attacking threat

At first Luis Enrique used Suarez on the right side of the three-man attacking trio, almost as something of a winger - in much the same role that Pedro Rodriguez had fulfilled for a number of years. But the position never suited the Uruguayan - undermining his inherent attacking threat and all but cancelling him out as a goal threat. As the calendar flipped into 2015 Suarez had scored just three times for his new club. Some tweaking was required.

But as Barcelona improved so did Suarez - to such an extent that the fortunes of both club and country must be considered somewhat intertwined. The Uruguayan ended his season with 25 goals and 17 assists, thriving in a more fluid position up front - also providing a crucial linking point between Messi and Neymar.

Some claim Messi - the greatest player of his generation - is now performing at a level unparalleled even for him, and the eventual acclimatisation of Suarez must go down as a major contributing factor. With the Uruguayan pulling and pushing opposition defenders into positions they’d rather not be in, Barca have more space to exploit - and when Messi is concerned more space usually means more goals.

Before this season the frontline of Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o was considered the greatest in Barcelona history. Indeed, the trio were astonishing - scoring 100 goals between them as the Catalans clinched the treble in 2009. But by comparison, the trio of Messi, Neymar and Suarez - also treble winners - bagged 123 over the course of the past season, eclipsing anything previously seen at the Camp Nou.

Suarez has no shortage of adversaries - and he may have made some at Liverpool by forcing a route to Catalonia last summer - but even those still in a sulk at Anfield must begrudgingly accept that he made the right call.