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Luis Suarez has always planned for Nacional’s return, but that doesn’t make the comeback any less surreal

Some time ago, on a brick wall outside Parque Central, someone painted the Nacional badge and wrote a message in the club’s red, white and blue. It’s not a particularly neat effort, the unevenly sized, hastily drawn letters and wonky badge all pretty crude, but somehow it’s better for it. And there is something about the message, something significant in its simplicity. “I will always come back to see you,” it read.

This week, Luis Suarez has done it.

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

As he made his way to Parque Central for his presentation, a biplane passed behind a banner that read “Suarez to Nacional” – the message that started out as a request, one of those crazy ideas that no one really thinks about. will produce, was now a reality. Video of it was recorded by Sofi, the girlfriend he left home for and the woman he came back with.

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Delfi, Benja and Lauti, their children, were with them and many others too, the impact was enormous. That kind of thing doesn’t really happen anymore. Some 20,000 tickets had been sold to welcome back the kid who made his debut for them in May 2005 and left the following summer after winning the league. Suarez received the No.9 shirt from Emmanuel Gigliotti, the striker who said it was an “honor” to relinquish it. There was a message from Lionel Messi: “I know what it means for you to go home,” he smiled. A video played with footage of Suarez from years ago at Nacional and beyond, accompanied by a track from Montevideo band No Te Va A Gustar. “Come home whenever you want,” he said.

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

He had, anyway. And of course, that was the point this week, or at least part of it. Suarez left Salto when he was seven, with his family moving to Montevideo and living in the La Comercial neighborhood. He didn’t know it, until several years later, when a man walking a dog stopped by to chat with his brother by pure chance and without even knowing who it was, but Obdulio Varela was just living in face – arguably the two most important footballers in Uruguay’s history within 50 yards. Her mother worked as a cleaner at the bus station; her father, with whom she had separated, worked where he could.

Just behind the house was a rough, narrow gravel path where they played. It was called the callejon — “the small street.” At one end was a lemon tree and at the other was a women’s prison. Next to it was a children’s home surrounded by barbed wire. It wasn’t always a great place, especially after dark, but it was a great place to be. All along, workshops, metal shutters folded down to serve as objectives. Or painted poles did the trick. There, Suarez slammed into everyone, chest tense – kind of like now, really. When he joined local club Urreta, it was no less fierce.

Suarez’s older brother Paolo, six years his senior, played – he would build a successful career in Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala as well as Uruguay. Just like his younger brother Maxi. In fact, Luis claimed that even though he didn’t succeed, Maxi was the best footballer. Luis wanted to play for Nacional, the team he supported.

He was going to their games, although he also had to go to Penarol games because it was Maxi’s team – the family was almost exactly split down the middle when it came to Uruguay’s big rivalry – and his mother insisted they had to go together. Even if it meant watching the “wrong” team some weeks, even if they got injured. Suarez remembers being confronted during a match by a Penarol fan in the stands wanting to know why he wasn’t celebrating a goal. Under his pants he wore Nacional socks, a small act of rebellion.

Ultimately, both would end up in Nacional’s youth system. 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 begged for the bus ticket to see Sofi, helped guide him. Also warned him. Paolo too. And Sofi too, a kind of hello, her everything. More, in the end, than he expected.

When she was forced to leave with her family, everything changed: Suarez was desperate to make it, and to make it over there. Also as soon as possible. His family had gone to Barcelona; it took him 10 years to get there, but Europe called.

The house too. It was a Bolso. He looked at Nacional, followed them. Identified with them. He supported them, grew up with them, played for them. There is a nice photo in which the Panamanian striker “The gunslinger” — the original gun – Jose Luis Garces marches triumphantly across the pitch, and the kid on whose shoulders he rides is Suarez.

He was one of them.

That’s why the response to her coming home was so huge, but it wasn’t the only reason. It is also because he got so huge, their man doing it there, someone to follow, to celebrate, to claim as his own. When he first entered the Nacional team, he missed a lot of chances and suffered a lot of abuse. They called him a donkey with wooden legs, but he was wildly successful: Groningen, Ajax Amsterdam, Liverpool, Barcelona, ​​Atletico Madrid, the national team. He scored 520 professional goals. These are absurd numbers; he is an absurd footballer.

And yet, sometimes he can still feel like he’s a little belowassessed. That doesn’t mean he’s not classified — it is — and there are good reasons to resist; everyone knows it, especially him. But it is still striking sometimes that we do not do more of what he did, the player he was. Outside of Uruguay, anyway. And, actually, here’s a question: maybe also outside of Atletico, where a brief stay had a big impact?

He won five LaLiga titles in seven years in Spain. He almost won the Premier League with Liverpool, and no it wasn’t alone, but ask what Anfield fans think and they’ll tell you it’s not too far off the mark, they don’t. have really seen nothing like it. He was twice a European Golden Boot winner, with two very different teams. He was the only player to be Spain’s top scorer, apart from Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, in 11 years – dating back to fellow Uruguayan Diego Forlan.

In 2015-16 he scored 40 goals. Only Messi and Ronaldo have scored more; no one has equaled it since. Only two men have scored more goals at Barcelona. He ran for 20+ league goals every season for four years and then had a terrible year in which he netted 16. He netted no less than 20 goals per season in all competitions for nine years. And have you ever seen anyone fly like him? The end in Barcelona came with a brief phone call, barely 30 seconds; if the time was right, the way was not, which fueled it.

He went to Atlético. It was over, they said; on the last day of the first season, he sat there in tears, talking to his family on the phone, after scoring the goal that won them the league. The Goals, plural. They were 21 that year. Even last year, when they decided he couldn’t continue, when he looked sideways, there were as many as anyone else. Show him some messages, callejon or Camp Nou, and he will put the ball between them. When he left, there were tears, applause, recognition at the Metropolitano: a banner thanked him for “making us champions”.

At 35, knees as they are, it might have been time. But there is a World Cup ahead, something to aim for, one last shot after 15 years and 68 goals with the national team. There was also pride. An initial inclination to stay in Europe proves a point. But then another idea began to emerge, to take shape. What if? At Parque Central, they adopted it, campaigned for it. It was good for them economically as well as emotionally: 4,000 new Nacional TV subscribers, 5,000 lost shirts, just the first day. Turns out he adopted it too.

There were good practical reasons for this, professionally and personally. There were possibilities and even discussions – Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund, River Plate, clubs in Mexico, Brazil and Turkey – which did not materialize. Agreements could not always be concluded economically or contractually. Some deals, like Turkey’s handful, have posed problems in terms of upset. Brazil brings long stretches on the road. The American season had already started. The summer was advancing, nothing was decided yet, the timing was right for Nacional.

A six-month contract, trophies to be contested in the short term, the World Cup to be prepared, on the spot without having to come back very far at each meeting: it was an enticing proposition. The house was too; warmth, feeling, being desired. Family. Forget the money, let’s do this. It didn’t seem entirely believable at first, but then it happened. And then it still didn’t seem entirely believable, judging by the reaction of the fans, the size of it all. This is what makes the presentation special, almost implausible, while making it feel somehow predetermined. As if this return to basics was always going to happen, the loop has closed.

As the video played clips of him from all those years ago, Suarez stood on a stage in the middle of Parque Central and stared at the screen. In a video, Delfi, who is almost the age he was when he joined the club, says: “Hey dad, I’m glad you’re where you wanted to be, where it all started when you was very small.” In another, he appears, still a kid, and says: “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.

Here it is again, that day having come.


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