Luis Suarez is living proof that romance in football is far from dead.
The legendary Uruguayan, 35, came off the bench to make his his first appearance for boyhood team Nacional in over 16 years this week.
Suarez proved he remained smitten with the beautiful game after he received a hero’s welcome upon his return to his homeland.
He started his career with Nacional in 2005 before enjoying spells at Groningen, Ajax, Liverpool and Barcelona, before ending his time in Europe with Atletico Madrid.
But none of that would have been possible without the woman he returned to the Montevideo-based club alongside: his wife Sofia Balbi.
Suarez’s rags-to-riches story began when he was a teenager with his mother struggling to make ends-meet after his father had walked out.
The forward had signed for the most successful club side in Uruguay football history but started skipping training, drinking, staying out late.
Suarez told the Liverpool Echo: “I wasn’t on the path I wanted to be on.
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“I was going out at night, I didn’t enjoy studying and I wasn’t dedicating myself to football.”
It was then that 15-year-old Suarez first met Sofia, two his years his junior, while working as a street sweeper.
Writing in his autobiography, Crossing the Line, he said: “It would have been easy for Sofi’s parents to reject this little rascal.
“When my daughter is thirteen, if she brings home a fifteen-year-old boyfriend who looks like he might be from the wrong side of the tracks I might not take so kindly to him. Not only did they seem to accept me, they actually appeared to like me.
“When Sofi’s father went away for work I would help her mother out with jobs around the house such as lighting the boiler. Sometimes Sofi and I would have disagreements and her mum would defend me. I suppose they valued the effort I put in just to see Sofi.
“Here was this kid from Montevideo who couldn’t afford the bus journey to Solymar, but he always found a way to see their daughter. I think they realised I would have walked if I’d had to.
“There were days when I had the money to get there but not enough money to get back and so I used to hitchhike home in the early hours. I had to be at training at Nacional the next day after all.”
Suarez’s goal scoring feats at Nacional propelled the club to the 2006 domestic title but there was something missing in his life.
His girlfriend Sofia had moved from Uruguay to Barcelona with her family when he was 16 and the pair struggled to make their long-distance relationship work.
When Suarez was offered the chance to move to FC Groningen in Holland, he seized the chance to be closer to her.
As reported by the Times, he said: “Sofia and I had to continue a long-distance relationship for a year.
“Despite this complication I could not give up on our relationship and when I got a call to play in Europe I didn’t think twice. The only thing I thought about was being by her side again.
“That’s how my European adventure started. I was only 19 but I had the girl of my life, Sofia, next to me.”
The two celebrated their ten-year wedding anniversary in 2019 and Sofia has been by Suarez’s side throughout all highs and lows in his career.
Uruguay’s all-time leading goalscorer told the Guardian: “Sofi means everything.
“She means the start of my career, she means a change of countries and lifestyles. She’s been there all the time, through good and bad.”
Suarez has the word Sofi tattooed on to his wedding finger while the names of each of their three children Delfina (an anagram of Anfield), Benjamin and Lauti on his wrist – which he kisses as part of his celebration.
A key factor in Suarez’s decision to leave Liverpool for Barcelona was the prospect of living in Spain where Sofi’s family still live.
But now the pair have now finally returned to where it all began with a full family of their own as Suarez rejoins Nacional.
The beautiful game indeed…
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