Legendary players such as Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Juan Roman Riquelme have all sported the famous No10 shirt for La Albiceleste. These iconic names would intimidate any candidate for the playmaker role within the South American country’s national side.
Leonardo Suarez, who turned 17 in March, appears to be an exception to the rule. “There’s no doubt that this jersey is different from the others. It’s been worn by some marvelous footballers, but that doesn’t bother me too much. I was more affected by the idea of representing my country and defending the colours of my national team,” the young Argentinian told FIFA.com.
This apparent modesty has not prevented Suarez from excelling during practically all of his international appearances over the past few months. Since the team set foot in the United Arab Emirates, Argentina’s coach has been bombarded by questions from journalists keen to discover why the rising star was not included in the starting line-up for their opening match against Iran (1-1).
“We’re aware of his worth to the side. All my players bring different qualities to the team. I make my decisions based on the characteristics of each individual player. I know that Suarez is capable of producing moments that can turn a match,” explained Humberto Grondona, the coach in question.
During Argentina’s second match against Austria, the midfield man had to wait until the 69th minute before making his grand entrance. He immediately and successfully slipped into the role of creative fulcrum, and put the icing on the cake by scoring the winning goal of a 3-2 victory two minutes from time.
“One of my team-mates played a long high ball forward. It bounced a few times, eventually landing right at my feet. I wanted to shoot with my right foot straight away, but a defender threw himself in front of me, which forced me to feign to shoot before finally hitting the ball. Even then, I had a bit of luck, because my shot was slightly deflected,” recounted the hero of the hour.
The crucial goal triggered scenes of jubilation among the South American contingent, as coaching staff, substitutes and team-mates sprinted towards him to offer their congratulations. Suarez soon found himself at the bottom of a pile of joyous compatriots. “It was a fantastic moment. I’m delighted to have been able to celebrate it with everyone. At the end of the day, we’re all here to serve the team, and we all need to fight for each other,” he said.
In Messi’s footsteps
The skilful No10 dedicated his goal to one of his best friends, who is apparently known for his large ears. As he ran away to celebrate, Suarez placed his hands behind his ears in honour of his acquaintance. “If I score again, I’ll definitely repeat the celebration,” promised the player nicknamed ‘Titan,’ laughing loudly.
Suarez, who dreams of one day starring for Boca Juniors’ senior team, was keen to focus on team objectives rather than worry about being left on the bench against Iran. The Argentinians have not hidden their principal aim: lifting the U-17 World Cup.
With four points already in the bag, the CONMEBOL representatives currently appear well-placed to secure top spot in Group E and book their ticket for the Round of 16. However, their third and final match against Canada is unlikely to be a walk in the park. Will Suarez play from the start? Grondona has already stated that he will only reveal his line-up at the last moment.
It will be quite some time before it becomes clear if Suarez will indeed follow in the footsteps of Maradona, Messi and Riquelme. He is, though, already one small step ahead of his more acclaimed countrymen, in that all three did not burst onto the global stage until the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Boosted by his experiences in the UAE, he has already begun to build a solid international CV. The new Argentina No10 could well be around for many years to come.