Striker Suarez fits the bill for Liverpool
The last time I saw new Liverpool signing Luis Suarez in the flesh, he was playing his biggest game so far in his native continent.
It was November 2009, and Uruguay were taking on Costa Rica with the final place in South Africa 2010 at stake. As Uruguay coach Oscar Washington Tabarez reflected recently, the World Cup can be enjoyed but the qualification process has to be suffered.
Uruguay certainly suffered to book their place, and despite having a 1-0 lead from the away leg, they were certainly suffering that night against Costa Rica. They dominated the game, but while the goals refused to go in, nerves were jangling, especially for Suarez.
The young striker had an unhappy evening. He started badly, and instead of easing his way into the game with some simple lay-offs, he kept searching for the extravagant option, trying too hard and only making things worse. Soon after the hour mark, coach Tabarez had suffered enough, and Suarez was substituted.
It is a memory that that, from the point of view of Suarez and his new club, gives cause for concern. The one question mark against Luis Suarez is his temperament. Now that Fernando Torres is moving on to Chelsea, will the Uruguayan be able to cope with the demands of coming straight in to lead the Reds' attack?
Torres' decision to leave is frustrating because Liverpool had the possibility of a very exciting partnership. For Spain, Torres has worked effectively with David Villa, a striker who excels at cutting in towards goal on the diagonal - and that is a Luis Suarez speciality.
Suarez could hardly be coming to England at a more suitable moment in his career. Photo. Reuters
With his strength, burst of acceleration, ability to go either side and box of tricks, an on form Suarez is a defender's nightmare. He has so many options available to him that his marker can never be sure what he is going to do.
Not only does he score plenty, but he also sets up a stream of goals - an observation which, admittedly to this writer on the other side of the Atlantic, made the want-away stance of Fernando Torres somewhat baffling.
It will surely be more difficult for Suarez to forge an understanding from scratch with fellow new arrival Andy Carroll. Nevertheless, Liverpool fans should be happy that the club have signed a hugely impressive striker.
At the age of 24, and with several seasons in Europe behind him, Suarez could hardly be coming to England at a more suitable moment in his career. His temperament will surely be tested, but I don' t think his ability is in doubt.
The deal is testament to the remarkable capacity of Uruguay to keep churning out top class players. Football-crazy nations such as Colombia (population 45 million) and Peru (nearly 30 million) failed to make it to the last World Cup.
Uruguay, with less than 3.5 million, were punching above their weight just by qualifying for South Africa, let alone by reaching the semi finals.
The first kings of the global game, Uruguay were unbeaten in World Cups until an extra-time defeat to the great Hungarians in the 1954 semi-final. The achievements of the old guard made football a vital part of Uruguayan identity, and inspired generations of kids to excel at the game. But those same achievements were also intimidating.
Tabarez talks of 'the curse of the Maracana,' the stadium in Rio where Uruguay shocked Brazil to win the 1950 World Cup. For six decades afterwards, Uruguay teams were measured by their home public against the 1950 heroes and found wanting. Suarez and his team-mates from last year have lifted the curse.
A vital part of that process has been played by the Under-20 sides. Like Argentina before them, Uruguay understood that their domestic football would inevitably suffer from the globalisation of the game, with their talented youngsters plucked away to Europe. Their youth set-up, then, was where they needed to groom players for the future of the senior side.
Four years ago, Suarez was not in action at the 2007 South American Under-20 Championships in Paraguay. He was already in Holland. Two members of the Uruguay side were particularly impressive - for World Soccer magazine, I picked out striker Edinson Cavani and defender Martin Caceres in a round-up of the best players on show.
Uruguay qualified for that year's World Youth Cup in Canada, and this time Suarez was on duty. He and Cavani scored all their goals. Three months later, Suarez was playing - and scoring - as Uruguay began their 2010 World Cup qualification campaign. Before long, Cavani and Caceres had joined him - an excellent example of the Under-20s serving as a conveyor belt to the senior squad.
The 2005 Under-20 team supplied superb centre back Diego Godin, left wing back Alvaro Pereira and goalkeeper Nicolas Muslera, as well as talented little winger Cristian Rodriguez who missed the World Cup through suspension.
Playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro was the star of the 2009 Under-20s, and at the end of the year played an important role in those play-offs against Costa Rica that booked Uruguay's place in South Africa. The tournament did not go as he would have hoped, with a red card followed by a serious injury, but he has plenty of time to get back on track.
His Under-20 colleagues Abel Hernandez, Sebastian Coates and Gaston Ramirez have since been promoted to the senior squad.
And what of this year's crop? It is a good time to pose the question, with the 2011 South American Under-20 Championships going into the decisive second phase. Uruguay made it through, but hardly in style - there were two defeats and a draw as well as one crushing win over Chile. They will now be expected to raise their game - some of this generation looked very promising in the last World Under-17 Cup.
Left-back (or centre-half) Diego Polenta is comfortably the stand out so far. Others to look out for - centre forward Federico Rodriguez, centre-half Leandro Cabrera, midfielders Pablo Cepelini and the right-sided Camilo Mayada. And Adrian Luna is a quick striker who works the flanks well. But he does not seem to have quite the thrust and the two-footed tricks of Suarez.
Liverpool's new acquisition has the kind of attacking threat that you don't see every day, even in the South American Under-20 Championships.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag;
Q) Can you imagine the situation when players such as Iniesta, Terry, Fabregas or one of the other top European players decide to play in the Brazilian league? Do you think that higher budgets and new stadia would encourage stars who have never played beyond Europe to move to South America? Or are there some factors which make it just impossible (high crime rates, problems with acclimatisation)?
A) I can imagine it happening in the future in the occasional case of a top player wanting to experience something different at the end of his career. Malouda of Chelsea talked of playing in Brazil because of the atmosphere in the stadia (my advice on that score would be to go to Argentina). If it can sort out its calendar (a big if) then the Brazilian Championship can be on the same level as the major European ones - but it can't offer access to the Champions League, making it difficult to imagine top European players at their peak taking the chance.
Q) I would like to ask about a team in Chile based in Vina del Mar, which has close links with one of England's top clubs - CD Everton. In 2008 they won the Apertura league title, yet last season they were relegated. What was the reason for their quick downfall? I read that after the friendly at Goodison Park in the summer, which was in the middle of their season, they hit a bad run. Was it just down to this, or was there more to it? Also, is it likely they'll bounce straight back up?
A) For all their tradition, Everton are not one of the big clubs of Chilean football, though their stadium is a wonderfully scenic place to watch the game. Their recent rise and fall is an example of the fluidity of domestic football in South America. The traditional powers from Santiago had a poor campaign - an excellent Colo Colo side had just broken up because the best players had been sold - leaving space for Everton to nip in and land their first title since 1976. But if Colo Colo can't hang on to their best players, Everton have no chance - the biggest blow was losing their excellent Argentine striker Ezequiel Miralles. In effect, Everton paid the price of their success - it put their players in the shop window. So they have now gone down - though I would expect them to bounce back before long.