This season’s UEFA Champions League has been a bit of a trip down memory lane for Ajax. The Eredivisie champions welcomed Zlatan Ibrahimovic back to the Amsterdam ArenA on matchday one as they recorded a 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain, and on Wednesday former captain Luis Suarez will return to the club he excelled at between 2007 and 2011 (live, Wednesday, FOX Sports 1, 2 p.m. ET).
The Uruguay international started his professional career at Nacional before joining Groningen in the summer of 2006, but it was at Ajax that he really made a name for himself. Unsurprisingly, Suarez’s time in Amsterdam both started and ended in controversial fashion.
If there were any questions over whether Suarez was worth that kind of money, the attacker instantly answered them with a blistering start to his Ajax career. Six goals in his first five Eredivisie games for the Amsterdammers were enough to highlight his enormous potential — and things would only get better.
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During his three-and-a-half years at Ajax, the Uruguay international was involved in no less than 179 goals in 158 appearances in all competitions and he scored an impressive nine hat tricks. He won the Eredivisie top scorer title once, was voted Eredivisie player of the year in 2009-10 and was elected Ajax Player of the Season twice. It all ended on a sour note for Suarez in Amsterdam, however.
One of his last actions for the current Dutch champions was biting Otman Bakkal on the shoulder during a scoreless draw with PSV at the Amsterdam ArenA on Nov. 20, 2010. The incident escaped the attention of referee Bjorn Kuipers, but the cameras were less forgiving and he was handed a seven-game suspension. On top of that, his reputation took a hammering, with leading newspaper De Telegraaf infamously referring to Suarez as "The Cannibal of Ajax."
Former teammate Nicolai Boilesen — the only member of the current Ajax squad who was a first-team player during Suarez’s time at the club — has largely fond memories of the prolific forward but acknowledges the extra baggage he brought with him.
"Luis scored a lot of goals, but he was a bit special, too," Boilesen told Tipsbladet earlier this week. "He got plenty of attention in the Dutch press after the incident with Bakkal. But the press only really had a go at him when he did it again in England. That incident probably got four or five times as much attention as the one in Holland."
Boilesen added: "But [Suarez] also took on a lot of responsibility on the pitch. He was incredibly important for the team. He was always very dangerous inside the opponents’ area."
There have been several notorious incidents involving Suarez since he left Ajax for Liverpool in Jan. 2011. There was the racism row with Patrice Evra, another biting incident with Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic and a third biting case involving Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup this summer.
But there have also been numerous moments of brilliance on the pitch. There were the three hat tricks versus Norwich City and the wonder-goal against that same opponent. There was the 31-goal season in 2013-14 that earned him the Premier League top scorer trophy and the Premier League Players of the Year award. There was also the achievement of becoming Uruguay’s all-time leading goal-scorer. And on Wednesday, Suarez gets the chance to shine in the Champions League for the first time since December 2010.
A wonderful night lies in store as he returns to European club football’s elite competition on a familiar ground. Suarez has never made a secret of his love for Ajax and he is delighted to play in Amsterdam once more almost four years after he left.
"It is destiny to go back after so much time and to play against the first team I played the Champions League with, Ajax, and for the team I have dreamed of all my life, which is Barcelona," Suarez told Barcelona Magazine. "It will be a very special game for me."
The Uruguay international, who made his debut in the loss to Real Madrid on Oct. 25, is yet to open his scoring account for the Primera Division club but will be gunning to get on the scoresheet at his former home as Barca aim to bounce back from Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Celta Vigo. Irrespective of the outcome of Wednesday’s encounter, it will indeed be a special evening for a special if somewhat controversial player.
"It’s a great source of happiness to play in the Champions League; I want to enjoy it," Suarez to UEFA earlier this week. "If I score I won’t celebrate, though, because I really respect Ajax. I will be delighted to score my first goal for Barcelona but I won’t celebrate."
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