Atletico Madrid striker Luis Suarez has told ESPN that he’ll be the one to decide when it’s time to retire, as he tops the La Liga goalscoring charts after a summer in which “some people” questioned whether he was still capable of performing at the highest level.
Suarez left Barcelona on a free transfer last September after coach Ronald Koeman told the 34-year-old that he was no longer part of the club’s plans.
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The striker joined Atletico, and his goals — 16 from 18 appearances, making him La Liga’s top scorer ahead of close friend Lionel Messi — have fired them to the top of the table.
Atletico, who are away to Levante on Wednesday, are five points clear of Real Madrid with two games in hand and eight points ahead of Suarez’s former club Barca.
“I still feel like I’m enjoying this moment that I’m in today, in football’s elite,” Suarez told ESPN, at an event organised by Puma. “Being at Atletico, you’re in football’s elite. Some people didn’t believe that I could still be at this level. I’ve got the same enthusiasm.
“I hope that this year, next year and for however many years it is, I keep competing and giving my best, until you realise that you’ve gone as far as you can. But no one will get rid of me. I’ll decide when I go.”
Suarez believes that his stubborn nature — which pushed him to prove his doubters wrong last summer — has been key to his success from the very start.
“I’m one of those players who has always characterised himself as being stubborn,” Suarez said. “When I try something two, three, four times and it doesn’t work out, I’m not one of those players who will let their head drop, who will disappear. I’ll keep trying, because I’ve been that way since I was a kid.
“I used to get criticised when I was 18 years old and the coaches I had, like (Suarez’s coach at Nacional in 2005-06) Martin Lasarte, used to say: ‘Don’t look at the goals that the 18-year old kid is missing, if he misses seven or eight. Focus on the fact that he’s still trying a third time, or a fourth time. That’s what will make him go far.’ Those words stayed with me and I will be like that, I am like that.”
Even Suarez, though, admits that he’s been surprised by how well this campaign has gone.
“I didn’t expect to be in this moment that I’m in with Atletico today, but I’m enjoying it a lot,” he said. “I’m grateful because the coaching staff and my teammates believe in me, they trust me, and that is something that you try to repay with goals.”
The role of Atletico coach Diego Simeone was also critical in convincing Suarez to move to Madrid after six years at Barcelona.
“Each coach obviously has their own way of being, their own football philosophy. [He] is a coach who gives players a lot of confidence, he makes you give more than you thought you could,” he said. “When it comes to preparing for matches, he corrects a lot of things. Even for me, at my age, he still corrects me and I accept it without any problem at all, because he’s the coach for a reason.
“At my age you could think that you know everything, you’ve done it all, but there are tactical details that you have to learn. That’s what the coach is there for.”
In his Argentinian manager, the Uruguay international said he has found a kindred spirit.
“Uruguayans and Argentinians have an intense way of experiencing matches. That doesn’t change much,” Suarez said. “What changes is that sometimes you have a coach who can explain a situation to you, who tells you ‘if you make a run in between those two defenders, you can get a chance to score.’ A coach can talk to you like that.
“But then another coach will tell you ‘make a run between those two defenders, and you’ll score, and then you’ll score two or three more.’ They’re the coaches that motivate you, they excite you, they’re the messages that stick with you and help you a lot.”