Suarez's late burst puts Messi and Ron in the shade

Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has lauded his striker Luis Suarez (left) for bringing more than goals to the team.
Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has lauded his striker Luis Suarez (left) for bringing more than goals to the team.

BARCELONA • In a little under two years with Barcelona, Luis Suarez has won six trophies, silenced his critics with almost impeccable on-field behaviour and now, most remarkably of all, left Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in his shadow.

The Uruguayan striker fittingly scored a hat-trick as Barca retained their Spanish Primera Liga football title on Saturday with a 3-0 win at Granada to take his tally for the season to a remarkable 59 goals allied to 26 assists.

Of those 59, 40 came in La Liga, making him the first man to depose Messi and Ronaldo and win the Pichichi award for Spain's top scorer in seven years.

Moreover, it is the most prolific season anyone other than Messi and Ronaldo has produced in the history of the Spanish top flight.

The Pichichi and Golden Boot for Europe's top scorer are individual awards where all that matters are the numbers and Suarez cannot be discredited.

He was sidelined as Neymar joined Messi and Ronaldo in Fifa's top three at the Ballon d'Or to crown the world's best player, despite playing a pivotal role in turning Barca from trophyless in 2013-14 to Treble winners a season later.

  • 40 La Liga goals Suarez scored, five ahead of second-placed Ronaldo

    14 Goals the Uruguayan notched in the last five games of the season

    6 Number of times Suarez scored three or more this season

The controversy and stigma of having bitten an opponent three times in his career continues to cost the 29-year-old Uruguayan in the popularity stakes.

However, in his first full season without a prolonged suspension in three years, he has shown his devastating potential to leave Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar trailing in his wake.

Barca's title run was built once more around the thrilling talents of the South American "MSN" triumvirate. Yet, of the three, Suarez was the most consistent.

The team's form replicated his in front of goal, he starred in the most glorious parts of the campaign and, most tellingly, made the difference when they most needed him.

When Messi was absent for two months owing to knee ligament damage early in the season, Suarez scored 12 times in 10 games, including twice as Barca embarrassed Real Madrid 4-0 away from home.

Suarez also scored the winner as Barca beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 to open up a gap at the top in January.

"Suarez is a key man for us for his goal-scoring capability, but also for his hard work and character," said Barca manager Luis Enrique recently.

That character shone through in the final weeks of the season as Suarez lifted Barca out of an alarming April slump.

He failed to find the net in any of Barca's three consecutive La Liga defeats for the first time in 13 years last month.

Yet, he responded with 14 in the last five games, for the five wins which Barca needed to hold off a late-season surge by Real, who lost the title by a point.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Suarez's late burst puts Messi and Ron in the shade'. Print Edition | Subscribe