Sympathy is not easily summoned for Luis Suarez. We know only too well the reasons why, but this column is not concerned with Suarez the human being; it's only about Suarez the footballer.
Suarez the footballer was born to the game an instinctive predator. He is that rare striker whose leg speed is matched by his speed of thought, and who works for the team as he works for himself. Very few players before or during his time have better delivered the game of the streets to the stadium.
But Suarez has evolved to become so much more than a player of instinct. His ability to thrive in different leagues, and in different tactical systems, speaks to a football intelligence he doesn't get nearly enough credit for. To that extent the perception of Suarez as a striker who plays off the cuff is only half-right.
The Suarez of the streets is never far from view. He's the penalty box dribbler slaloming tackles, the maverick forward volleying goals from 40 yards (see Norwich City, 2013) and the tirelessly combative foe who never backs down. But when you add to that skill set a highly developed reading of the game, growing maturity and a sense of responsibility (Luis Enrique recently praised his leadership), you've got yourself a truly world-class player.
Suarez's record is undeniable. For both club and country, taking in over 500 appearances, he averages more than a goal every two games. There has never been a major dip in his output and he got better and more deadly with each successive season at Ajax and Liverpool, as he threatens to do now at Barcelona.
Transitions have come easy for the 28-year-old. First came the move Suarez made as a young boy to Nacional, and then the switching of continents to join Dutch club Groningen at 19. From there he moved to the footballing altar of Ajax and then to Liverpool, before joining the giants of Barcelona.
Each move a step up. Each challenge wilfully accepted. And each experience, it seems, has developed Suarez to become a better player than he was before. Somewhere lurking deep beneath our clouded perception of Suarez, fighting against an immovable tide of distrust, is a role model trying to get out.
When Kenny Dalglish brought Suarez to Liverpool in 2011, for £22.8 million, he pulled off one of the very best Premier League transfers. "He is quick, intelligent, and has had a fantastic education at Ajax," Dalglish said, knowing only too well that Suarez was a whole lot more than a playground prodigy unleashed.
(Dalglish also signed Andy Carroll for £35 million that January window, but nobody's perfect.)
Suarez was always going to leave Anfield for loftier climbs, but his legacy lives on at Liverpool. His goals and singular brilliance returned the club to relevance and may yet have lasting impact. Who can say what the success of Suarez did for Liverpool's appeal, in terms of attracting players like Philippe Countinho and managers like Jurgen Klopp. It certainly can't have hurt.
Meanwhile, at Barcelona, things are going spectacularly well for Suarez. You might remember his goals helped win them a treble last season and he scored in the Champions League final. This campaign Suarez is flourishing once more, with 11 goals in his last seven games. The glorious MSN trident he completes with Lionel Messi and Neymar is back together again after Messi's injury absence.
And then there's this gem from @Barcastuff on Twitter—In 2015, Suarez has produced 22 assists for Barcelona. That's one more than Messi and almost double Neymar's contribution of 12.
Little wonder there were calls for Suarez's inclusion as FIFA announced the three finalists for the Ballon d'Or. Suarez was beaten out by Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo, and I'd argue rightly so, but there can be no doubting who deserves fourth place prize if there was one.
I'd also argue Suarez doesn't get the plaudits he deserves. Maybe that's what happens if you line up alongside two of the best three players on the planet? Or maybe it's just the grudge we hold against Suarez for the wrong moves he's made along the way?
Perhaps the biggest compliment to Suarez is the presence of Messi and Neymar only inspires him. There's no ego battle being fought at Barcelona, just a love-in between a trio of wonderful players who may yet go down in Barca history as Best, Law and Charlton did at Manchester United.
You don't have to love Suarez the person to accept he's one of the best players of his generation. And if you don't think he's underrated, consider a top five of players you'd sign if money was no object.
If you don't have Suarez in there you haven't seen him play lately.