Where does Luis Suarez rank among Barcelona's all-time great strikers?
A ridiculous surge of form in the last couple of weeks has seen Luis Suarez score eight goals in only two games. Combined with his consistency over the year, those strikes have helped to earn him a special place in the Blaugrana's history. By scoring four against Deportivo on April 20, he bettered Brazilian legend Ronaldo's still-impressive tally of 47 goals for Barcelona in 1996-97 -- and the Uruguayan wasn't finished. With a further four in his next league match against Sporting Gijon, the No. 9 not only set a new personal best of 53 strikes in one club campaign, but also became the only player other than Lionel Messi to break the 50-goal mark in a competitive year for the Catalans.
Barcelona have been lucky enough to call upon a significant number of the finest central strikers in the world over the years, but even by those heady standards, Suarez's 2015-16 is proving to be impressive. That raises a question: Just how does he hold up compared to the great centre-forwards who have played for Barcelona in the past, and could he even be the best?
Whether it was Scotsman George Pattullo's 41 goals in 20 matches during the 1910-11 season, or Cesar Rodriguez's 34 in 29 during 1951-52, Barca have long reaped the rewards of great goal-scoring talent. In the modern era, that trend has continued. Compile a list of the best strikers of the last 30 years and, chances are, a chunk of them will have played at the Camp Nou at some stage in their careers.
One such case is Ronaldo, who -- to a certain generation -- is still the greatest striker, pound-for-pound, that there ever was. Though he later reinvented himself as more of a pure scorer after injuries robbed him of pace, Barca got to see the best of R9 during his year in Catalonia, when he not only had the finishing ability of his latter days, but also had explosiveness and dribbling skills comparable to Messi.
Pure numbers tell us that Suarez is more effective than Ronaldo was, but the older striker's overall game during the 1996-97 season was a cut above the Uruguayan's, filled with mazy runs and a jaw-dropping capacity to ride challenge after challenge. The stocky forward should have gone on to be Barcelona's flagbearer in the late 90s, but instead departed almost as soon as he arrived, as infuriatingly bad club management let him to go to Inter Milan at his peak. Would he have been just as good during a second or third season at the Camp Nou? We will never know, and it is that uncertainty, combined with Suarez's already-proven capacity to deliver consistently in the Barca shirt, that means the latter will ultimately be held in greater esteem by fans.
Someone who is still thought of fondly by supporters, however, despite having a similarly brief period in the Catalan capital, is 1994 World Cup-winner Romario. With 30 goals in 33 league games in his debut season, he was an instant hit for Barca. It isn't an exaggeration to say that there has never been a Barca striker with a finer first touch, and the diminutive forward was blessed with an innate ability to set himself perfectly for a shot while receiving possession.
Romario was all about natural talent, and less about improving upon what he already had. In truth, it is hard to imagine him flourishing in the Barcelona side of today without significantly adapting his work rate. For all of his incredible finesse as a finisher, he didn't have the determination or impact out of possession that Suarez has. One reflection of that difference can be found in the outcome of their two respective Champions League final appearances for the club, both against tricky Italian opposition. While a Romario-led Barca were steamrolled 4-0 by a more effective and efficient AC Milan in the 1994 final, the Suarez-led version defeated Juventus 3-1 in the 2015 edition, with the No. 9 scoring the all-important second goal. Both played in two of the greatest Barcelona teams ever, but Suarez made a greater contribution when it really mattered, in Europe.
If impact on the big stage is a deciding factor, then it is easy to make the case for Samuel Eto'o. The Cameroonian scored the opening goal in not one but two Champions League final wins for Barcelona, including their first European Cup victory in 14 years. He had a habit of popping up with a goal at the perfect moment, turning the tide of difficult games that weren't going Barca's way. Eto'o is, notably, the only Barcelona player not named Lionel Messi to win the Pichichi trophy in almost 20 years, a trend Suarez is now looking to change. There are plenty of similarities in their games, not least in terms of character and how they press from the front. Suarez has better numbers this year than Eto'o ever managed, but the former is still one standout Champions League final performance short of the latter. Who is the better Barca striker? It's a matter of taste, but it's definitely debatable.
If the contest with Eto'o is tight, then there is still one Barcelona striker who Suarez is a long way from matching, and he happens to play alongside him. Messi's exceptional ability across the length and breadth of the pitch makes it easy to forget just how ridiculously talented a goal-scorer he is, and it remains hard to see how anyone will ever equal the 73 strikes in 60 games the Argentine managed in the 2011-12 campaign. That's the highest number of goals scored in a single European club season, and a reminder of just how lethal the No. 10 was while playing through the middle.
Let's be honest, Suarez isn't on Messi's level, but few, if any, are. Perhaps even the ultra-competitive 29-year-old would be content with second best when first place is held by his unearthly-seeming friend. Putting Messi aside, the fact that it is reasonable enough to consider where Barcelona's current No. 9 stands in comparison to the rest of the club's all-time greats in the position speaks volumes about how well he has performed in less than two full seasons at the Camp Nou. Suarez has already superseded many of Barca's best-ever strikers, and if he continues at his current rate, future players will have a tough time living up to his standard.
Lee Roden is a European football writer based in Barcelona. Follow him on Twitter: @LeeRoden89.