One of the finest strikers Honduras has ever produced, David Suazo retired from the game last year at the age of 33.
Known to the fans as El Rey (The King), Suazo emerged from the youth ranks at Club Olimpia before signing for Italian side Cagliari at the age of only 19. He went on to become a legend of Honduran football and a revered figure at the Sardinian club, who invited him back following his retirement to work with their young players.
Suazo also made history with the national side, taking part in what was only La H’s second FIFA World Cup™ at South Africa 2010, and appearing in their first Olympic Football Tournament at Sydney 2000.
He remained in Europe after his productive association with Cagliari came to an end, joining Inter Milan and playing for Benfica and Genoa on loan before making one last move, to Calcio Catania, in 2011. A year later he finally gave into the injuries that had plagued him throughout his career, reluctantly announcing his retirement from the game.
Now attempting to create a niche for himself off the pitch, the prolific Suazo sat down with FIFA.com to speak about this new phase in his life and to take stock of a playing career for which he, in his own words, remains “grateful”.
FIFA.com: You said when you retired a few months ago that it would be hard for you to get used to life without playing. Is that still the case?
David Suazo: It has been difficult. Football generates a lot of emotions and is very rewarding. It really was tough to give it up. I’m getting used to it little by little and it helps that I’m now actively involved with Cagliari. It’s helping me come to terms with the fact I’m no longer playing. It’s still pretty fresh in the mind, though, and it’s difficult to move away from something that’s been your everyday life, your day-to-day reality. Let’s just say I’m 50 per cent over it, though I can’t say with any certainty that I’ll totally come to terms with it.
How does it feel to have been a striker who triumphed in the land of catenaccio?
Everyone tries to make their own way and obviously the things I had to offer helped me succeed here. I was a fast player and that opened the doors for me. My pace helped me fit into the tactical set-up. Football here is all about tactics and I had to work hard on that part of my game. It helped me grow and improve, though. It all helped me make my own little bit of history in Italy and Europe.
Which nickname did you prefer: King David or The Panther?
I can’t really say. They’re gifts from the fans and all you can do is play and show them some love back. Things like that push you to keep on going. I like both of them because that’s what the fans liked to call me them. And as far as I’m concerned, what the fans say, goes.
Are you satisfied with your career?
Of course I am, but like any player who refuses to settle for less I would have liked to have done a little bit more. All in all though, I’m happy with what I achieved, mainly because people tell me I did a good job. I’m grateful for that
Of all the goals you scored with La Bicolor, which is the most special?
The very first one, for the U-20s against Guatemala in the 1998 qualifiers for the World Youth Championship. It means a lot to me because it was my first in the Honduras jersey.
What fears did you have when you left Honduras at the age of 19?
The same fears any youngster has when they go off on an adventure. At the time I don’t think I really grasped just how big a step it was. There I was going to another continent and not having a clue about what to expect, though that also helped me deal with the change. I had to learn another language and get used to a totally different culture, in both a footballing and general sense. I had to give up my frijolitos (bean dishes) and start to eat pasta. It was tough. It really hit me.
There were some difficult moments when I thought ‘I’m going back home because I can’t take any more’. But little by little I got used to it and settled in. I’m also lucky to have the support of a wonderful family. My brother Nicolas played football and he explained the problems I might have, which helped me. In the end I came through it and I’m very happy I stuck it out and trusted myself, that I believed I could achieve big things here.
If you could, what would you say to the young David Suazo who left home at the age of 19?
I’d tell him that the most important thing is to believe in yourself and to stick at it. That’s how you get opportunities. It’s not easy but you can’t achieve anything if you don’t work at it. It all makes you stronger. The problems you have along the way help you to grow as a person and a player.
You had the privilege of playing at South Africa 2010, a tournament in which you’ve since said you weren’t at your best. Looking back, what memories do you have of it? How do you feel about it?
It will always be special for me. We all know what football’s like. A lot of things have to happen for you to play in an event like that. I had some problems at the start and I didn’t play as well as I would have liked, but it was fantastic to be there. I’m very happy I took part, though it was tough not to be able to play better. All the same, on a personal and professional level it was the icing on the cake. It was the one big tournament I hadn’t played in and I got there in the end. I can also tell my grandchildren I played against the world champions. That was amazing.
How does it feel being on the outside looking in at the FIFA World Cup qualifiers?
Different. I still feel fresh and I didn’t retire that long ago, so sometimes I think (raising his voice): ‘Aaargh, I could be there. Why aren’t I?’. It’s hard and I think about it a lot, but I just have to get on with it. It’s not easy to watch on TV though. I sit there at home, trying to get on the end of corners.
It’s made me realise that it’s hard to be a fan. I watched our home match against Mexico and I ended up with a headache! I was in pain when I left the stadium because of all the tension.
Can this generation of Honduran players return to the FIFA World Cup?
Professor Suarez (Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez) has virtually rebuilt the squad that played at the last World Cup and I think that’s important. A lot’s expected of these boys and I’m confident they’re mature enough to handle what is a tough qualifying competition.
Will you stay in Italy?
For the time being, yes. I’m working for the club and my children go to school here. I feel happy and very much loved. We’ll see what happens later though.
One last thing, David. We’re going to read out a list of things and we want to say the first thing that comes into your head.
Sounds great, let’s go.
Jose de la Paz Herrera.
The opponent you admired most?
Italy’s Alessandro Nesta.
The game of your life?
Wow, that’s tricky. My first Motagua-Olimpia match in 1999.
The best decision of your career?
My eight years with Cagliari.
A regret from your career?
Having to retire.
Something you’re proud of?
Something you wish you’d done?
Score in the World Cup.
What would you give a red card to?
Finally, a piece of advice for youngsters?
Believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you there are things you can’t do.