Liverpool striker Luis Suarez has revealed how his future wife saved him from being cast onto the football scrapheap as a teenager.
The Uruguay international says that Sofia, who he married in 2009, gave him the confidence to succeed when he was struggling to break through at his first club Nacional.
Suarez is set to make his return from a ten-match suspension -- imposed for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a Premier League match in April -- when Liverpool visit Manchester United in the Capital One Cup third round on Wednesday night.
He has been a controversial figure throughout his career, having collected a seven-match ban while at Ajax for biting PSV Eindhoven midfielder Otman Bakkal during an Eredivisie game in November 2010.
The striker was then suspended for eight games after being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra in October 2011.
In a new book, Suarez has told of how he almost failed to make it as a professional footballer.
Suarez joined Nacional, based in Montevideo, as a nine-year-old, but was close to being released at the age of 14, while he continued to be held back by disciplinary problems even after being kept on.
He has cited wife Sofia and Nacional scout Wilson Pirez as the key influences in steering him through his difficult teenage years, when he was affected by the separation of his parents.
In a new book Vamos Que Vamos -- which tells the stories of the Uruguay squad who reached the 2010 World Cup semi-finals and is being serialised in the Guardian -- Suarez said: “Up to the age of 12 I knew that I wanted to play football, but afterwards, from 12 to 14, I went through a phase in which the football wasn’t going well for me and I didn’t want to study. I didn’t like to train.
“I only liked playing the games and that way it was going to be very difficult for me to achieve something. I got really angry. I was a rebel and that worked against me.”
Suarez met Sofia when he was 15 and she was 12, admitting: “It was a big change in every sense. I was very lazy about studying and she helped me to realise that it wasn’t because I was a dunce that things weren’t going well but because I wasn’t interested.
“I began to score goals. And I got to the point where I almost broke the Nacional youth record. The record was 64 goals in a full year and I scored 63. Things like that gave you confidence.”
When Sofia moved to Barcelona, Suarez was driven to force his way into Nacional’s first team and then win a move to Europe so that they could be reunited.
Suarez said: “That was when I really realised that if I wanted to be close to her I’d have to work hard. I’d have to wake up. So I set to work much harder than I needed to. I wasn’t free to go there nor her to come here because of the money situation. So I had to train to the max to be able to succeed in Europe.”
Having made his debut for Nacional in 2005 at the age 18, he joined Dutch side Groningen a year later.
He admitted that he is a driven character, on and off the field.
The striker said: “If a move doesn’t come off for me, I want to keep trying it, and trying it and trying it. I really, really, really want to score.
“And I guess in life it’s the same for me. If I want something, I really, really want that something. And if I don’t get it, I get mad.”