Luis Suarez arrives with the tracksuit of the Uruguay national team, together with Diego Godin, the captain of the side.
He will soon compete in his fourth World Cup and he is preparing to do so by playing back in his home country with Nacional.
I remember our first interview. It was in Amsterdam in 2008. You were an Ajax player. What do you remember about that Luis?
We’ve all changed, and football is different, so I’ve changed too. But the personality of that Luis is still the same: wanting to win, to fight, to triumph. That was, is and will be me. Some aspects can be improved, but the ambition to be competitive is still the same as that Luis.
Was going to Nacional an act of romanticism?
Yes, obviously. We decided to return to the team that saw me leave, to which I am very grateful. It was a difficult and complicated decision, because I am close to a World Cup, but I left with the conviction and certainty that I was taking the right step, because I had to set the pace of preparation. Being competitive in any league is not easy.
How has Fede Valverde’s progress struck you?
There are newspaper archives, back in 2017, when Fede made his debut in the national team, I already said that he reminded me of Steven Gerrard, who was a teammate of mine at Liverpool. He has similar characteristics: a box to box, with a good shot, change of pace, a lot of runs [into the box]. I don’t want to compare, but the characteristics are similar. I saw Fede coming and he has made great progress, surrounded by great stars. It did him a lot of good.
Ronald Araujo’s injury is a downer, isn’t it?
It is a hard blow. He is a player who sets a trend in the group and in the defence for his personality and versatility. He was at a great level. But we know how to replace him, although we will support him to recover. Hopefully he can make it to the World Cup. It would be a relief, but he must be calm and not rush because it can be counterproductive. He can’t let his enthusiasm for playing in the World Cup betray him.
How do you see Barcelona doing?
Very well. They made good signings and the young players have two more years of experience: Pedri, Gavi, Ansu, who is coming back, plus the experience of Jordi [Alba], Busi [Busquets], Ter Stegen… It’s a team that can compete for everything.
At Barcelona you won a Golden Boot, a Champions League, and became the third highest scorer in the club’s history (198 goals). Honestly, from 0 to 10, how would you rate your career as a Barcelona player?
A 12, because of the expectations with which I arrived, which were not so high with Leo [Messi] and Neymar. It was said that three roosters in a henhouse could not coexist and we showed that we could perform, with the role of each one, but leading Barcelona to be the best in history during those years. I am proud of the career I had. I fulfilled the expectations. At the end of that stage, one obviously lowered the level but I still had the tranquillity of always surpassing 25 goals per season.
And with time it was shown that neither you nor Leo were the problems in the locker room, as some people said.
[laughs] That also gives me peace of mind. Within the dressing room, we were just one more. With experience, with years inside, but with performance in goals. Was there still the ‘must’ of winning a second Champions League? Yes, maybe there was that little thorn, like mine of not scoring away goals in the Champions League, but I gave my all to the club. I’m proud of what I did.
You were kicked out of Barcelona by Ronald Koeman. If you met Koeman now, would you greet him?
Time goes by, and yes, out of politeness and respect, I would greet him. If I met him, I hope that Ronald would have the greatness, which he had as a player at the club, to tell me the truth to my face about why I left, and that I didn’t leave for footballing or technical reasons.
Do you trust Xavi, will he bring back the essence of the style of play?
I think so. He is showing it, without being perfect. He is a coach who grew up there, and knows what the club and the fans need. I see many conditions for him to go far as a coach, and, in addition, they gave him good tools for it, they gave him the players that he needed and wanted. It’s up to him to prove it.
How do you see Leo? He is your friend but he is going all out for the World Cup and that can make Uruguay suffer.
I speak with him, and yes, they have 35 matches without losing. You always have to have respect for Argentina, but in Qatar even more, because of the way they have been playing. They are one of the candidates.