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Jun 27, 2014

Barcelona have holes Suarez can't fill

Luis Suarez, who was handed a four-month ban by FIFA after being found guilty of biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini during a World Cup match, has arrived back in Montevideo.

Luis Suarez has become front-page news all over the world and, unfortunately for him, not necessarily because of his undeniable talent on the football pitch. His regrettable decision to bite Italy's Giorgio Chiellini has made him the target of criticism and countless jokes throughout media of all platforms.

The situation can be compared to Zinedine Zidane's infamous head-butt in the 2006 World Cup final. Despite his numerous displays of class and managing to consistently lead his teams to glory, the general public will mostly remember him as the French guy who completely lost it under pressure, attacked Marco Materazzi and let his team down with only minutes to go in the most important match of his career.

In both cases, it would be fair to say their twisted minds ultimately got the better of them and, regardless how many apologies they could try to mutter afterwards, the damage was already done.

As most expected, FIFA have wasted very little time and given Suarez an exemplary sanction: a four-month ban from all football activity, plus a nine-match suspension from his national team.

- Marcotti: Suarez ban -- why and what now?
- Liverpool consider Suarez legal options

It is clear that football's governing body couldn't overlook such a high-profile case and, while I would normally interpret their decision as quite harsh, the fact that this was not a first occurrence gives Suarez very little ground to stand on. It really does look like the Uruguayan striker will now have to endure yet another spell away from the game due to his repeated inability to follow the sports' most fundamental rules.

The Catalan media had been reporting about Barcelona's intentions to sign Suarez for several weeks, even before the regrettable incident occurred. Apparently, the South American forward asked his agent to offer his services to both Real Madrid and Barca, with the latter being the preferred choice based on their traditional attacking philosophy and the fact that, perhaps unknown to most, his wife is a proud Catalan who would welcome a return home.

Based on his recent performances for club and country, Suarez is the best striker likely to be involved in this summer's transfer window. Having scored 61 goals in his last 81 appearances for Liverpool, it is easy to understand why major European clubs would be interested on hiring his services.

His relentless desire to win at all costs would certainly be a shock to most of the current members of the Blaugrana squad, recently used to a calmer, more idealistic approach to the game and life in general. Many in Catalunya see him as a modern-day Hristo Stoichkov, the legendary Bulgarian winger who became a club legend thanks to his no-nonsense attitude towards whoever got in his way.

Would Barcelona welcome Luis Suarez with open arms?

If Luis Enrique is looking to add more firepower to a front line already boasting the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar, the Uruguayan striker is definitely a safe bet. It would then obviously be up to the Asturian coach to ensure the three stars worked cooperatively for the overall benefit of the team, and to introduce mechanisms to ensure enough spaces were created for all.

While it is obvious that his signing would instantly boost Barcelona's ability to hurt their rivals (pun somewhat intended), I personally believe the board would be wrong to spend such a huge percentage of their transfer budget in reinforcing an attack that, in addition to Messi and Neymar, also includes Alexis Sanchez and Pedro. However, a deal that would send one of the latter (preferably Pedro, to be honest) in the opposite direction wouldn't necessarily be terrible if the fee was significantly reduced as a result.

Having said all of the above, Andoni Zubizarreta's main priority should still be signing a reliable, taller, experienced centre-back who could sort out the Blaugrana's alarming inability to defend neither set pieces nor quick counterattacking breaks effectively.

Having already signed goalkeepers Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo plus midfielder Ivan Rakitic is reassuring, but the board's inability to recruit that much-needed defender is both inexplicable and discouraging. The Catalans' alarming back-line weakness was the decisive factor that turned their season into a nightmare, and urgent steps must be taken as a result.

Luis Suarez, at 27 years of age, is at a major crossroads. With the whole world justifiably on his case (and even more so in England, with the only apparent exception of his beloved Liverpool), the talented yet controversial forward must decide whether to stay in the Premier League to prove doubters wrong or pack his bags in search of a new challenge elsewhere, most likely in La Liga.