Last Sunday, Montevideo was set ablaze to celebrate the moving return of Luis Suárez to Nacional, the club of his debut. As a welcome, Argentinian striker Emmanuel Gigliotti offered his number 9 to a tearful gunslinger. Two days later, they shared a few minutes together on the pitch during the defeat (0-1) against the Brazilians of Goianiense in the quarter-final first leg of the Copa Sudamericana. Nicknamed “el Puma”, the former Boca Juniors and Independiente striker recounts the madness that has gripped the Uruguayan capital and analyzes the local football supposed to prepare ‘Lucho’ for his last World Cup.
It was a revolution. The previous weeks, it was already completely crazy. When Luis announced that Nacional hadn’t contacted him and the president said he was going to call him, our team began to be observed around the world. It was unimaginable to see a player of Luis’ stature come to Nacional. In South America, if you take away Brazil with its level of competitiveness and its economic power capable of attracting boys like Vidal, David Luiz and Felipe Luis, it’s rare to see footballers of this caliber in Argentina or Uruguay . Imagine the delirium in a small country like that to see a striker return who played in the best Barça in history. We’re talking about a guy who’s in the top three or five number 9s of the last fifteen years.
— National (@Nacional) August 1, 2022
“I had never seen such a thing. It must be a first in world football. They talked about it all the time. The worst thing is that it convinced him to come!”
Honestly… Did you believe it when he came?
With the other players in the squad, we had hope but we didn’t really believe in it. Like everyone in reality. I have lots of friends who kept texting me for info. A week before, Luis had said no to River Plate which had just been eliminated from the Copa Libertadores. We are talking about a big club on the continent trained by a respected coach like Gallardo. We did not imagine that he was going to come after this refusal. But when we started to see the incredible mobilization of Nacional supporters on social networks, we started to believe it. I had never seen such a thing. It must be a first in world football. They talked about it all the time. The worst part is that it convinced him to come!
When the transfer was formalized, how did you react to each other?
Apart from the goalkeeper Sergio Rochet who plays with Luis in the selection, none of us had ever been in a team with a player of such a level. We were all looking forward. There was a lot of enthusiasm and emotion, especially for the kids at the club. For all of us, sharing a locker room or being on the pitch with him is something incredible. You watch it all the time. What is he doing ? What doesn’t he do? What is he saying ? What doesn’t he say? What are we going to tell him?! Nobody wants to be ridiculous in front of Luis (laughter). It is very strong what we live.
“For me, it’s an honor. I gave him the shirt at the presentation at the stadium in front of 25,000 spectators. I had never spoken in front of so many people!”
Great lord, you gave him your number 9… In truth, you had a choice?
No one had asked me anything at the club. It seemed natural to me to give my number to Luis. When we found out he was coming, I went to see the stewards to ask them:Guys ! Is there another number available for me? 9 is for Luis» . The president thanked me. For me, it’s an honor. I gave him the jersey at the presentation at the stadium in front of 25,000 spectators. I hadn’t prepared anything but Sebastián “El Loco” Abreu who hosted the event asked me to say a few words. I had never spoken in front of so many people! People were very moved in the stands. For them, Luis is like seeing Mick Jagger. He also comes at a time when the team is playing well. Even if we lost the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana on Tuesday, we can qualify for the second leg next week. It’s been more than thirty years since a Uruguayan club won a continental trophy. We will do everything to get there. With Luis, we will gain in quality. I hope we can take advantage of it.
From un 9️⃣ gigante a otro 9️⃣ gigante ????Emmanuel Gigliotti le entregó la camiseta número 9 @LuisSuarez9 y le dedicó unas palabras a su nuevo compañero y a La Primera Hinchada del Mundo ??? #SuárezEnNacional #ElClubGigante ?⚪️?@AntelDeTodos pic.twitter.com/yuez1j32xp
— National (@Nacional) July 31, 2022
You shared a few minutes with him on the pitch during that first leg against Atlético Clube Goianiense (0-1). It was short but how was it?
We were losing so I was completely taken by the game. I didn’t realize right away. When I got home, I received tons of messages from friends: “Do you realize that you played with Suarez?” Where “Dude, you made a one-two with Lucho!» . There, you come back down to earth and you say to yourself: “ok, this is crazy”. We have to take advantage and learn as much as possible by his side. Whether it’s the twenty-year-old kid or me with the same age as Luis. No matter. We’ve only trained together once so far. On the field, we have already seen on certain ball touches, certain movements that he was a different player. Now it is he who will have to get used to the fact that we are not footballers with whom he normally plays! (Laughter).
— CONMEBOL Sudamericana (@Sudamericana) August 3, 2022
“Under these conditions, players like Valverde, Cavani, Suárez, Nuñez have managed to emerge. What will happen in the future when there will be better infrastructure?”
What is the Uruguayan championship worth?
Here, it plays a bit like ten years ago in Argentina. I’m talking about before the arrival of coaches like Ricardo Gareca or Tata Martino who convinced us that it was possible to play differently and not just with a warrior game. Here, it remains a football where there is a lot of friction. There is a lot of pressing like in Argentine football. The pitches are not ideal and I am not talking about the training centers. When you want to improve the way you play, it’s problematic. But when you see the raw material that there is here, you say to yourself that this country is very far from giving everything it could. In these conditions, players like Valverde, Cavani, Suárez, Nuñez managed to emerge. What will it look like in the future when there will be better infrastructures? There is a lot to do. They have 10% of the Argentine population but an impressive amount of talented footballers.
How would you define the Nacional club?
The supporters are always on. They encourage you as soon as you meet them in the street. When you see what they did for the arrival of Luis, it gives you an idea. It’s a big club. For me, it’s one of the biggest on the continent. The institution has been world champion three times in its history. We must recover the past glory. It takes time but I believe that we have leaders who can support this progress.
In your career, you have played great clásicos like Boca Juniors – River Plate or Independiente – Racing. The rivalry between Nacional and Peñarol, where do you place it?
The country is very small. Everything is so close that the rivalry is lived on a level of madness like you can have in a clásico in Rosario in Argentina between Central and Newell’s Old Boys. Practically half of Uruguay is from Peñarol and the other half from Nacional. People and especially players remain fanatical about their club over time. When the championship starts, the two institutions look above all at the date of the clásico. The next one is at the end of the month. When you meet supporters in the street, they don’t tell you that they want to be champions. They repeat to you:Win the classic!» . It’s a beautiful madness.
“Here, he is at home. He feels good. For me, the emotional and the whole psychological dimension is the most important. The World Cup is in a few months. If there were two years left, it would be different. .”
We still wonder if Suárez will be able to prepare for his last World Cup by playing in Uruguay. What do you think ?
I think players of his caliber, having played in several World Cups and played in big clubs, do most of their preparation in training. These are guys who have an impeccable lifestyle off the pitch. Luis recently had to treat his knee. He will gradually regain all these abilities. Here he is at home. He feels good. For me, the emotional and the whole psychological dimension is the most important. The World Cup is in a few months. If there were two years left, it would be different.
Otherwise… Is he nice, the Lucho?
I had never seen him in my life. Our first time will forever be in a stadium with a microphone in front of 25,000 people and the whole world watching. It was unusual and incredible. I hope the whole world saw how confident I was with my speech (laughter). Actually, Luis is great. I hope it will inspire other great South American players to come back here.
Interview by Georges Quirino Chaves