Luis Suarez is nothing if not a great entertainer. Not only does the Uruguayan play hugely skillful, blisteringly graceful football but he is also the go-to man whenever football fans are in the mood for a little controversy. He is the pantomime villain, the nasty high-wage striker who so evilly handballed before scoring against Mansfield and then had the temerity not to admit it. He is the serial cheat who blithely owned up to deliberately diving to win a penalty against Stoke. These two incidents gave our newspapers plenty to write about but one wondered, in the words of Mario Balotelli, why always him? There have been and will be more players who dive to win penalties and score goals from a handball.
It seemed at that time that Suarez was being targeted because he made it so easy for the media to do so. This was the less attractive side of Luis Suarez’s all-consuming drive to win, the acts of a man who is willing to do anything to secure a victory. It was the raggedy-edge gamesmanship of a player pushing as far as he could to help his club succeed. His efforts may have been misplaced but one had to admire the man’s commitment. Coupled with this mad drive to succeed of course comes a prodigious footballing talent, one of the most skillful players in the Premier League. As a recipe for winding up rival teams’ fans there’s little more potent than a horribly talented player with a penchant for bending the rules.
Suarez doesn’t deserve all the condemnation he gets for the fact that his drive to win often clouds his sense of the game’s rules. I only wish the controversy surrounding the Uruguayan ended there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Racially abusing Patrice Evra had very little to do with wanting to win or lose. It revealed a side to the man that simply does not belong in English football, and Liverpool’s reputation understandably took a hit for their staunch support of the man. It’s the fact he’s receiving the same kind of support now that makes the current situation with Branislav Ivanovic appear all the more worrying.
Liverpool’s response to Suarez’s bite appeared at first to be vaguely in the right direction – Rodgers was making the right noises and the club’s immediate fine displayed a sense that they were taking the situation seriously. They could, and perhaps should, have taken a harder line with Rodgers’ statement that no player is bigger than the club by pre-emptively suspending Suarez
However, given that an FA suspension was inevitable it is not really surprising that no ban from the club was forthcoming. So far, so good. But soon enough, every other Liverpool player seemed to be weighing in with his opinion on how unfairly Suarez had been treated. Rodgers’ comment that the FA “punished the man, not the incident” seems almost absurd. Of course they were punishing the man. It was not the first time he had bitten someone and it wasn’t the first disciplinary issue he had had in the Premier League. It would be gravely unjust if a man with Suarez’s record were punished in the same manner as a player who had committed his first offence. Liverpool’s complaints about the FA ban underestimate the player’s influence. The FA’s suspension makes an example of one of the most recognisable faces in world football, a man who above anyone else should be setting a positive example. It’s a hard stance that I admire. Frankly we haven’t seen enough of it from the FA of late.
Where do Liverpool stand in the long term? I would like to hope that Luis Suarez has played his last game for the Reds – and I say this as a staunch Liverpool supporter. Over the last two seasons he has been responsible for most, if not all, of the most damaging incidents to the club’s once glowing reputation. He has taken advantage of the massive support and understanding given to him by the club but failed to mature into the role model he ought to be. A prodigious talent he may be but there are many other talented players out there who don’t come with nearly as much controversy as Suarez does. However, I fear it’s unlikely that he will be shown the door after this incident. In spite of Rodgers’ claims, it appears that he seems to see Luis Suarez as an indispensible asset why else would he get so heated up at the length of the suspension? Looking at past examples doesn’t make the picture much more rosy – Eric Cantona springs immediately to mind. Given that Suarez has more or less carried the weight of Liverpool on his shoulders this season, it looks as if, like it or not, we won’t see him leaving through being pushed. One can only hope that Liverpool don’t secure any European football this season and that Suarez leaves of his own volition.
PHOTO / *BRIO*