Last Sunday, Montevideo was set on fire to celebrate Luis Suárez’s moving return to Nacional, the club of his debut. As a welcome, Argentina striker Emmanuel Gigliotti offered his number 9 to a crying gunman. Two days later, they shared a few minutes together on the field during the defeat (0-1) against the Brazilians from Goianiense in the first quarter-final of the Copa Sudamericana. Nicknamed “el Puma”, the former Boca Juniors and Independiente forward talks about the madness that has gripped the Uruguayan capital and analyzes the local football that was supposed to prepare ‘Lucho’ for his last World Cup.
It was a revolution. In the previous weeks it was already completely crazy. When Luis announced that Nacional had not contacted him and the president said he would call him, our team began to be observed around the world. It was unthinkable 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 able to attract boys like Vidal, David Luiz and Felipe Luis, it is rare to see footballers of this caliber in Argentina or Uruguay. Imagine the delirium in such a small country to see the return of a striker who played in the best Barça in history. We’re talking about a guy who’s been in the top three or five number 9 for the last fifteen years.
— National (@Nacional) 1 August 2022
“I had never seen anything like that. It must be a first in the world of football. They talked about it all the time. The worst part 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 really. I have lots of friends who kept writing to me for info. A week before, Luis had turned down River Plate, who had just been eliminated from the Copa Libertadores. We are talking about a big club on the continent coached by a respected coach like Gallardo. We did not imagine that he would come after this rejection. But when we started to see the incredible mobilization of Nacional supporters on social networks, we started to believe it. I had never seen anything like it. It must be a first in the football world. 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 all rejoiced. There was a lot of enthusiasm and emotion, especially for the children in the club. For all of us, sharing a dressing room or being on the pitch with him is something incredible. You see 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?! No one wants to be ridiculous in front of Luis (laughter). It is very strong what we live.
“For me it is an honour. I gave him the shirt at the presentation in 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… Did you really have a choice?
No one had asked me anything in the club. It seemed natural for me to give my number to Luis. When we found out he was coming, I went to the stewards to ask them:Guys! Is there another number available for me? 9 is for Luis». The President thanked me. For me it is an honor. I gave him the shirt at the presentation in 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 watching Mick Jagger. He also comes at a time when the team is playing well. Although we lost the first leg of the quarter-finals of the Copa Sudamericana on Tuesday, we can qualify for the second leg next week. It has been more than thirty years since a Uruguayan club won a continental trophy. We will do everything to get there. With Luis, we will win in quality. I hope we can take advantage of it.
From un 9️⃣ gigante to otro 9️⃣ gigante ????Emmanuel Gigliotti le entregó la camiseta número 9 @LuisSuarez9 y le dedicó unas palabras a su nuevo compañero ya La Primera Hinchada del Mundo ??? #SuárezEnNacional #ElClubGigante ?⚪️?@AntelDeTodos pic.twitter.com/yuez1j32xp
— National (@Nacional) 31 July 2022
You shared a few minutes with him on the pitch during the first match against Atlético Clube Goianiense (0-1). It was short, but how was it?
We lost, so I was completely blown away by the game. I didn’t understand it right away. When I got home, I received tons of messages from friends: “Do you realize you played with Suarez?” Where “Dude, you did a one-two with Lucho!». There you come back down to earth and you say to yourself: “ok, this is crazy”. We must take advantage and learn as much as possible at his side. Whether it’s the twenty-year-old kid or me the same age as Luis. Does not matter. We have only trained together once so far. On the pitch we have already seen from certain touches of the ball, certain movements that he was a different player. Now he is the one who has to get used to the fact that we are not football players that he usually plays with! (Laughter).
— CONMEBOL Sudamericana (@Sudamericana) 3 August 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 am 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 only with a warrior game. Here it remains a football where there are many frictions. There is a lot of pressure like in Argentine football. The pitches aren’t ideal and I’m not talking about the gyms. When you want to improve the way you play, it’s problematic. But when you see the raw material that is here, you say to yourself that this country is very far from giving everything it could. Under these conditions, players like Valverde, Cavani, Suárez, Nuñez managed to emerge. What will it look like in the future when better infrastructures arrive? There is much to do. They have 10% of Argentina’s population, but an impressive amount of talented footballers.
How would you define Club Nacional?
The supporters are always on. They encourage you as soon as you meet them on the street. Seeing what they did for Luis’ arrival gives you an idea. It’s a big club. For me, it is one of the greatest on the continent. The institution has been world champion three times in its history. We must regain the glory of the past. It will take time, but I believe we have leaders who can support this progress.
In your career you have played great classics such as 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 lives up to a level of madness that can be had in a clásico in Rosario, Argentina between Central and Newell’s Old Boys. Almost 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 followers on the street, they don’t tell you 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 who have played in several World Cups and played in big clubs do most of their preparation during training. These are guys who have impeccable lifestyles off the field. Luis recently had to treat his knee. He will gradually regain all these abilities. Here he is at home. He is well. 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 cute, Luchoen?
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 big South American players to come back here.
Interview by Georges Quirino Chaves