David Suazo, the black-and-blue panther
The Honduran striker will be lining up next season
for Inter Milan after the Italian champions saw off city rivals AC
Milan in the race for his signature. And with his goalscoring
skills, penchant for hard work and endearing humility, it is not
hard to see why the player was so sought after by the Milan
giants.In a city as passionate about football as Milan,
it is no surprise that the fierce on- and off-field rivalry between
its big two, theNerazzurriand
Rossneri,continues right throughout the closed season. This
year proved no different, with the city rivals fighting tooth and
nail to secure the services of the same striker. What was unusual
about this highly publicised transfer saga, however, was the fact
that the object of their desires was not Italian, French or
Brazilian, as you might expect, but actually Honduran.
The man in question was Oscar David Suazo, a native of San Pedro Sula, Honduras's second largest city. Born into a family of footballing thoroughbreds on 5 November 1979, he seemed destined to follow in their footsteps from an early age.
A family affair
As David was growing up, he had the perfect role model in his older brother, Nicolas, who by then was embarking on a career that would establish him as one of the finest strikers in the history of Honduran football. Unsurprisingly, the youngest member of the Suazo household, accompanied by his talented cousin Maynor Figueroa, modelled his games on that of his brother, dreaming one day of emulating his feats. With a combination of natural flair and sheer hard work, the two cousins soon came to the attention of the local scouts, culminating in a move for both of them to the capital Tegucigalpa, where they would hone their skills in the youth side of one of the country's top teams, Olimpia.
David would go on to make his first-team debut at the club before his 20th birthday and looked set to become one of the figureheads of the team. Fate had other plans for the youngster, though, and, after only ten games with the capital outfit, he was called into the national team for the FIFA World Youth Championship Nigeria 1999 - a tournament that was to change his life.
Although the championship was a disappointing one for the Catrachos, who lost all three of their games, their captain scored two of his side's four goals, providing at least one silver lining. Suazo's performances also brought him to the attention of the Uruguayan Oscar ElMaestro Tabarez, then coach of Italian side Cagliari, who did not hesitate to bring the player across the Atlantic to Sardinia.
The Panther emerges
With the 20-year-old coming to a country he knew next to nothing about and where the standard of play was considerably higher than his homeland, it was almost inevitable he would initially struggle to adapt. In his first season there, Suazo scored just once in his 13 appearances as Cagliari were relegated to Serie B.
However, for the Honduran, relegation proved a blessing in disguise, giving the player the time and space to adapt to his new environment. During his four seasons in Italy's second tier, he notched up 40 goals in 113 games, earning himself the nickname La Pantera (The Panther), a moniker that has stuck to this day.
At the same time, the forward was establishing himself as a fixture in the senior national team. In spite of Honduras's failure to make to the 2002 or 2006 FIFA World Cups™, the forward has always made himself available and given maximum effort for his country.
When Cagliari finally made it back into Serie A for the 2004-05 season, La Pantera felt he had a point to prove to his doubters. In his first season back he netted seven times, before hitting a remarkable 23 goals the following year, a new club record. His goal haul was even more impressive when you consider the Sardinian club struggled for much of the season to avoid relegation.
His exploits earned him the Serie A award for Best Foreign Player last season, putting him in the sights of some of Europe's top clubs. One year on, and he became the central character in a Milanese tug-of-war that finally ended in his signing for reigning champions Inter - quite an achievement for Honduran football and its principal flag-carrier. Indeed theNerazzurrihave every right to be pleased with their acquisition. Possessing pace and a natural goal-scoring instinct, to add to his renowned selflessness and modesty,La Panterahas all the right characteristics to light up the San Siro, and prey on opposition defences next season.