It was in 2012, on a dusty pitch in his native Colombia, that a talented 14-year-old striker with a rather famous name suffered an injury that threatened to end his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
Luis Suárez had developed quite a reputation with local club El Versalles – he had played in under-17 tournaments since the age of 12 – and was desperate to carve out a career in the game to support his poverty-stricken family.
But then Suárez appeared to be knocked into a different life. While representing El Versalles, the teenager suffered a fractured skull after a fairly innocuous challenge with a defender.
Doctors told Suárez he could never play football again. But once the tears had subsided, determination replaced desperation. Suárez ignored medical advice and made a startling recovery.
Three years later he made his professional debut, aged 17, for second-tier side Leones against América de Cali.
“From a very young age I set myself the goal of being a professional player,” he said in an interview with El Periódico de Aragón. “I came from difficult neighborhoods, you see drug addiction, theft, murder. Most young people look for easy money and follow that line.
“Therefore, unless you have a different mentality, it is very difficult to get out of there, immediately people tell you it’s an illusion. So when you are here you value that effort and the complicated days bear fruit.”
Suárez made just eight appearances for Leones before he was offered the chance to move to Europe. Italian club Sampdoria were interested but did not have space in their squad for another non-EU player. Enter the Pozzo family.
He joined Granada on loan in January 2016. Eighteen months later, a year after the Pozzo family had sold the Spanish club, he officially moved to Watford.
He has remained in Spain, however. There was a loan move to Valladolid B in 2017/18. A season-long stint with Gimnàstic in 2018/19. And this summer he opted to spend the 2019/20 campaign with Spanish giants Real Zaragoza, whose ambition is to return to LaLiga after seven years outside the top flight.
“Watford wanted a different club but my agent and I chose Zaragoza, it’s a place where I felt I could have a good year,” Suárez explained. “I had a good range of options, more than six clubs were interested, but I chose Zaragoza for the beautiful project that the manager, Víctor (Fernández), told me.
“I also wanted the pressure, a club where the only objective is promotion. It’s why I feel I made the best choice this summer, without a doubt.”
Nine games into the season and Suárez’s decision has already paid off. He has scored seven times – half of Zaragoza’s total league goals – and is the division’s joint-top scorer.
Los Maños are fifth in the table and there is already talk about keeping Suárez at the club beyond this season. “If things continue as they are, I would love to stay another season,” the 21-year-old said last month.
Watford, who are in desperate need of a goalscorer, may have other ideas.
They couldn’t keep Suárez at the club this summer as he wouldn’t have been granted a work permit. Yet he has obtained dual citizenship this month, and therefore have a Spanish passport.
That opens up two potential avenues for Watford.
With the rest of Europe now an option for the striker, the Hornets could look to sell Suárez at a vast profit. Or they could try to cut a deal with Zaragoza to bring the Colombian back to Vicarage Road early.
However, Madrid-based Spanish football correspondent Max Bluer believes January would be too soon for Suárez to return to Hertfordshire.
“I don’t think going back to Watford this winter would be a good idea even if it were possible, which the local press don’t feel it is,” he explains. “He needs more than half a season to prove himself before making such a big leap. By the end of the campaign perhaps he will be ready for LaLiga and maybe the Premier League.”
What’s clear is Suárez has transferable skills. He is not blisteringly quick but has a burst of acceleration that enables him to escape from defenders. He is a confident finisher with either foot – he has five with his right and three with his left this term – and at 6ft 1ins has a physical presence in the penalty area.
He is also prepared to defend from the front, something vital in the modern game.
“His standout feature is his physical intensity – the guy just does not stop running,” Bluer explains. “He presses defenders for 90 minutes, is constantly making runs in behind, and tracks back. It’s made him a real fans’ favourite at Zaragoza.
“He’s very two-footed and his finishing once through on goal is unerring. He’s played well alongside a big target man this year but I think he could thrive playing up front on his own for a team that looks to play out from the back.”
The striker has also struck up a good understanding with former Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund star Shinji Kagawa, which, at the very least, suggests he is able to dovetail effectively with higher-quality players.
Suárez is well settled in Spain; he, his wife and young son have adjusted to life in Zaragoza with ease. “We have the mentality of older people,” he joked. “We do not like to party much. We are usually just at home with our son, or going to the movies.”
It’s why relocation to chilly, relegation-threatened Watford in January – however remote the possibility – is unlikely to appeal, even if the town does now have two cinemas. But there will come a point, sooner rather than later, when Suárez will leave the Spanish second tier for something more.
“I imagine Watford will do the same as they’ve done with Cucho Hernández and loan him out to a LaLiga side after he excelled in Segunda,” Bluer adds. “He has the potential to thrive in England, his athleticism is outstanding and he seems grounded.
“But plenty of strikers have excelled in Spain only to then struggle in the Premier League. I’d be surprised if he ever turned out for Watford if I’m honest. I think it’s much more likely that they’ll look to sell him for a healthy profit.”
There is little doubt the odds are stacked against Suárez to make it at Watford – the tale of Adalberto Peñaranda is case in point – but the Colombian has defied expectations once before. It would be unwise to bet against him doing the same again.