Sofia Balbi, Suárez’s childhood sweetheart and now wife, was the ‘distraction’, and arguably the biggest reason for switching his homeland for Europe. Having met in Montevideo, the young couple had maintained a long-distance relationship after Sofia had moved to Barcelona with her family. Suárez made no secret of his motivations and readily admitted he’d have joined any club in Europe to be closer to Sofia. Irrespective of the admission, Groningen, a little-known footballing outpost in the far north of the Netherlands, seemed something of an unconventional step.
Henk Veldmate, who at the time was Groningen’s technical director, was the man responsible for bringing Suárez to Europe in July 2006. Having travelled to Uruguay to look at another player, Veldmate’s discovery of Suárez was somewhat unintentional. In the single match witnessed by Veldmate, Suárez netted a penalty and a wonder strike. The contingent from Nord-Holland moved swiftly, if a little tentatively.
With Nacional, Uruguayan league champions at the time, slapping a price tag of €800,000 on their prodigy, the sense of risk increased. Not only was Suárez an unknown quantity, he was also more expensive than Groningen’s original budget for any possible deal. After much deliberation, a series of minor complications, and a muted Plan B switch to Getafe in La Liga, Suárez was eventually on his way to the Netherlands.
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