Luis Surez, on the eve of Barcelonas Champions League semi-final against Liverpool, talks about his Anfield days, playing alongside Messi and why he does not mind being called fat
It is the morning after the night Barcelona virtually won the league and Luis Surez has not slept much but he is grinning again, easing into a sofa, mate in hand. He has been busy lately: looking at flights, tickets too, and making history. As he strolls across in the sunshine, he is told the goal he scored the previous night, his 21st in the league this season, did not just take Barcelona to the verge of a fourth title in five years but also made him the clubs third highest league goalscorer of all time, level with Lszl Kubala, the Hungarian whose statue stands alone outside the Camp Nou. But there is more to do.
Although it is less than 10 hours since the final whistle at Alavs and Barcelonas players did not get back until past 3am, Surez arrives before another training session. There are games to prepare for. The Copa del Rey final is a month away but on Sunday there is the match against Levante that should confirm them as champions and, after that, the first of two games that will define their season, his games: Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final. It is the tie that will take Surez back to Anfield, the place he says defined his career. The tie that will take the whole Surez family back, in fact.
My kids never go to Champions League games but they want to go to this one, Surez says, stirring hot water into the yerba, the names of his wife Sofia and his children Delfina, eight, Benjamn, six, and baby Lautaro embossed on the mate cup, their photos on his flask. I was talking to Sofi about Anfield and they said: Were going too. Well all go, except maybe Lauti, six months yesterday. Benja was very small but he was born in Liverpool and knows its his first stadium; hes seen photos. Part of Delfis childhood is there: when she first started to get excited by football, it was there. She remembers what it was like, singing Youll Never Walk Alone, so imagine what this means for her.
Its going to be a strange feeling but lovely, too. I saw Carra [Jamie Carragher] at Old Trafford and he was excited. Jordan [Henderson] is still there; some friends of his came for the clsico. Itll be nice to see the staff, like Ray [Haughan], who used to handle everything. And Ive been getting messages from the lady in the canteen [at Melwood]; she wants to see the kids: shed always look after Delfi, taking her into the kitchen with her. Itll be nice to go back.
But then there will be a game to play, a battle to be fought. You see me here and Im calm, relaxed but then when I play, Im totally different, Surez says, smiling. He is on good form. There are two of him, he knows, and at times they can be hard to reconcile. Im so grateful but Im there to play for Barcelona, knowing what our targets are. Once were playing therell be no friendship, no mates, none of those lovely memories. Thats the way I am as a player, everyone knows.
Oh, they know. At Liverpool, they were fond of that fight and will recognise the relentlessness, the man who took them so close to the league and ended sobbing under his shirt at Selhurst Park five years ago. Surez insists that while he has adapted, while the responsibility is different, he has not changed much. What has changed, he believes, is Liverpool for the better.
Surezs perfect scenario now is another former club Ajax in the final (incredible, he calls them) a Barcelona treble and a Liverpool league title. Ojal, he says: God willing. This is the nearest they have been to the title since he departed and he knows why they are the only team for whom domestic success takes priority over Europe, 29 years on. He has lived that: the excitement, the hope, the need. Yet if he sees a little of his side in them, it may only be a little. And not just because only Henderson, Simon Mignolet and Daniel Sturridge are left.