It’s 10.30am at Barcelona’s training ground and Luis Suarez has brought his morning flask of tea – Uruguayan tea, ‘mate’ – with him into the press room.
It’s his daily breakfast of champions, or more aptly this morning the breakfast of ‘nearly champions’, because Barca still need three more points to win La Liga. They will probably get them tonight at home to Levante.
Suarez has only had five hours sleep after the team returned in the early hours from a 9.30pm kick-off the night before.
But he’s ready to talk Liverpool, who his Barca team face in the Champions League semi-finals next week, Lionel Messi and how, for someone who gets called ‘fat’ and ‘slow’ at the start of every season, he’s done okay as Barcelona’s No 9.
Luis Suarez is relishing an impending return to Anfield to play against Liverpool with Barcelona
But Suarez has no room for sentiment – Champions League glory is Barcelona’s main target
Suarez cemented his status as one of the best players in the world during his time at Liverpool
The Champions League is the club’s primary mission. Messi announced it as such back in August at a pre-season friendly. Did Suarez know his captain was going to promise supporters to bring ‘that beautiful cup’ back to the Nou Camp?
‘No, I didn’t know,’ he says. ‘And we joked with him afterwards: “you said it, so you had better make it happen!”‘
It hasn’t all been left to Messi. A Suarez header set Barcelona on their way against Manchester United although UEFA decided it was Luke Shaw’s own-goal.
‘I’m counting it,’ Suarez laughs. ‘For all that it took a deflection it was going in at the far post anyway. As far as I’m concerned, it’s mine.’
He understands it was a goal many Liverpool supporters would have enjoyed.
‘An ex-Liverpool player scoring at Old Trafford and then we knock them out,’ he says. ‘Obviously, they are going to be happy but maybe not so happy now they have to play us.’
Suarez celebrates with Lionel Messi after scoring against Manchester United at Old Trafford
Barcelona and Suarez can seal La Liga glory this weekend with a win against Levante
Suarez pictured speaking to Sportsmail’s Pete Jenson ahead of the Liverpool encounter
Barcelona v Liverpool
First leg: Wednesday May 1, Nou Camp 8pm
BT Sport 2
Second leg: Tuesday May 7, Anfield
BT Sport 2
Looking ahead to the second leg, he says it will be both ‘strange and wonderful’ to go back to Anfield where he has not played competitively since he left in 2014.
‘I’ve been lucky to take great memories from all the clubs I have played for. Playing for my home club Nacional in Uruguay got me a move to Europe. I developed a lot as a player at Ajax and that helped me take the next step into the elite, which was playing for Liverpool.
‘And at Liverpool I was able to consolidate as a player on the world stage. Liverpool made me realise that I could keep improving as a player, keep growing, and I’m grateful for all that and for what I shared with my children there too.’
They don’t usually go to Champions League games but this is different, he says.
‘I was talking to [my wife] Sofi about going to Anfield and the children said: “and we’re going too”. So, we will all go, maybe not the youngest, Lauti, who was only six months yesterday.’
Suarez’s son Benjamin, who will turn six years old this year, has already shown signs of promise as a player. According to his dad he’s even inherited his father’s ability to block off defenders by turning his backside into them.
‘He was very young when I was at Liverpool but he knows the first stadium I took him to was Anfield,’ Suarez says proudly.
‘And his sister Delfina (an anagram of Anfield) – a part of her childhood is there. When she first started to get excited about football, it was there. She remembers them singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ so imagine what this means for her.’
He says he will seek out club liaison officer Ray Haughton and he wants Delfina to see the canteen staff who used to take care of her when she went to work with her dad.
To say it went well for Suarez after Liverpool would be an understatement. This will be his fourth title, he has three Spanish Cups and a Champions League, and in La Liga he is the club’s third all-time top scorer.
Anfield provided Suarez’s children with their first memories of him as a footballer
Suarez’s carries reminders of his family wherever he goes – including on the flask for his tea
At Barcelona, he has reached new heights and is the club’s third-highest scorer in La Liga
European Golden Boot rankings – 2018-19
1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – 66
2. Kylian Mbappe (PSG) – 60
3. Fabio Quagliarella (Sampdoria) – 44
4=. Mbaye Diagne (Kasimpasa) – 42
4=. Robert Lewandowski (Munich) – 42
4=. Duvan Zapata (Atalanta) – 42
4=. Luis Suarez (Barcelona) – 42
4=. Krzysztof Piatek (AC Milan) – 42
4=. Karim Benzema (R Madrid) – 42
‘I have won a lot of trophies – maybe more than I would have expected – but it goes with the territory when playing for this club. And Barcelona’s third highest scorer in La Liga – imagine that, with all the great players that have passed through this club.
‘I think I have produced the goods. I think I have been worthy of this club’s No 9 shirt.’
There has still been criticism at times. Thanks to UEFA giving that goal to Shaw he still hasn’t scored away from home in the Champions League since 2015.
‘That doesn’t keep me awake at night. I know I’m the only player in Europe who has been able to get anywhere near Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo in the race for the Golden Shoe in the last five years,’ he says. ‘And twice I won it.’
There are also doubts cast at the start of every season. People say he looks a bit slow, a little bit… ‘Fat!’ he interrupts smiling.
‘They say everything. I laugh at it. You have to learn how to live with the criticism. Here, you go a couple of bad games and it’s: “oh, a bad run”. They are the demands here.’
He’s looked at home at the club from day one – knowing his place without shrinking into Messi’s shadow.
‘When I came here, I knew that I had Neymar on one side and Leo on the other and that I had to do, let’s say, the dirty work,’ he says.
‘I was there to occupy the two centre backs. I would make a move into space, one centre back would not know what to do and the other one would follow me and they [Messi and Neymar] were left one-on-one. And in one-on-ones they’re the best.’
When Suarez arrived at Barcelona, he formed a lethal three-man attack with Messi and Neymar
Suarez knew he had to put in the hard yards in attack to allow his team-mates to flourish
Suarez has been team-mates with Messi for years but is still amazed by what he can produce
Familiarity has taken away none of the wonderment he has when talking about Messi. ‘Sometimes I set off running with my head down and the ball just appears there at my feet and I think: how did he put it there? How did he know that I would end up there?
‘Or I’ll be waiting to receive the ball with my back to goal and there are three players between us and I think: I’ll move because how’s he going to get it to me here?
‘And he does get it through only now I’m not there. I’ve moved because foolishly I doubted he could find me. There are thousands of moments like that.’
Are they the best partnership in the club’s history? The goal stats certainly say so.
‘Well I don’t know,’ Suarez says. ‘I know we are good team-mates and friends. I think you have to be as natural as possible when you join a new club, let the relationship flow and every day you get to know each other that little bit more.
‘There was always a mutual respect. We respected what our roles were, our ways of playing, our personalities and that means that we get on spectacularly well.’
What will football be like when Messi retires? There’s a long silence broken eventually by a gulp of tea.
‘It will be difficult,’ he says. ‘But the nice thing for all of us is working in football right now is that we’re here experiencing it and enjoying it.’
Liverpool come into the semi-final first leg on Wednesday still with the dream of ending that long run without a league title – sound familiar Luis?
It’s clear that despite all he has won since, he still bears the scars of the failure to win the Premier League in 2014.
For all of his success in Spain, Suarez remembers how close he was to league glory at Liverpool
Suarez was heartbroken at how Liverpool collapsed in the final stages of their title battle
‘I think that with us it was different because there was a sense of now or never,’ he says. ‘For the current squad this is the second season they have been in contention and last year they played in the Champions League final. They have more experience. They know how to approach the games.
‘We weren’t always able to handle those moments. What happened with Stevie [Gerrard] was bad luck, and that gets remembered, but also against Crystal Palace [the 3-3 draw when they had led 3-0 with 11 minutes left].
‘Now, you’d say: let’s play calmly, we’re 3-0 up here and Manchester City have to play a game in midweek and then at the weekend. They had to win both games.
‘But we had that anxiety, that urge to score goals, and we went forward even though we were winning 3-0, thinking we could be champions on goal difference. We made the mistake of being, let’s say: “too young”.
‘Now they have the experience of last year. That makes you stronger and it will give them that right amount of caution and understanding.’
There is also another reason why this title charge is different.
‘This is a period in which any player would want to go to Liverpool,’ he says. ‘I remember that when I was there that wasn’t the case. It was a very different time.
‘We were on the verge of winning the Premier League with a squad that was totally inferior [to the current one].
‘They didn’t spend so much money on players then. If we had won the league that year, it would have been an even bigger achievement.’
Suarez consider Liverpool a much bigger club in stature than when he played for them
Suarez also believes Raheem Sterling ‘has improved incredibly’ since he played with him
Had he won it in 2014 he would have done so alongside a raw Raheem Sterling, a player whose development seems to bring genuine delight.
‘He has improved incredibly. I remember we used to joke that he didn’t know how to finish. He’d be one-on-one with the goalkeeper and it would come off his toe and go wide. We’d have a laugh with him.
‘The change in him is spectacular. I’m really happy for him.’
The departures of Suarez and Sterling helped pay for the team that will turn up to the Nou Camp on Wednesday. So did the sale of Philippe Coutinho who became Barcelona’s record signing but is yet to completely convince.
Coutinho scored the third goal in the 3-0 win over Manchester United last time out in the Champions League but then he stuck his fingers in his ears as a protest at the way he feels critics have disrespected him.
‘He’s a friend, a team mate, and he’s young,’ Suarez says. ‘He proved his quality at Liverpool. He had to be conscious of the fact that it’s not easy coming to Barcelona. It’s not easy to adapt. It was hard for me.
‘And the smallest thing that you do – and what Philippe did the other day was tiny – gets magnified.
Philippe Coutinho was criticised by Barcelona fans for how he celebrated a goal against United
Suarez played with Coutinho at Liverpool and backs him to succeed at Barcelona
‘But sometimes you also have to understand the player. If the fans want a player to perform then support him because out on the pitch – and it happens to me – the player is not stupid, he hears it when he loses a ball and there’s this murmuring from the crowd. It affects him. He starts to think: what if I lose the ball again?’
Being whistled by your own supporters would perhaps not happen to him at other clubs.
‘Not at Anfield,’ says Suarez. ‘In fact not in English football in general. When I went to Manchester United they whistled me of course! But your own fans… it’s very unlikely that you hear that.’
With the flask that he has by his side, covered in pictures of family, now run dry, and the midday training session about to start, Suarez says his goodbyes.
The beard is bushier and there’s even a jolliness to him that would never have characterised his earliest career interviews. These are good times.
Suarez hopes to be celebrating again at Anfield soon but in the colours of Barcelona
For Suarez, a Barcelona treble and league glory for Liverpool would be a perfect season
His parting shot is to agree that Barcelona winning the treble and Liverpool winning the Premier League would make for the perfect end to the season. Although you sense the treble is all that’s on his mind.
Liverpool means a lot to him but there will be no refusal to celebrate should he score when he faces his former side.
‘In the build up to the game it’s nice to talk about how massively grateful I am to Liverpool for all they gave me but, you know me, once I’m on the pitch there will be no friendships, no companions, no thought for all the lovely moments,’ he says.
‘I’ll defend the colours of Barcelona with all the pride in the world.’