(Eds: With AP Photos.)By JOHN LEICESTERAP Sports Columnist
The next time Luis Suarez gets the urge to sink his teeth into an opponent, let’s hope his victim is someone other than Branislav Ivanovic.
Because finding words that rhyme with the Serbian defender’s name is tricky.
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Spinach? Twitch? Stitch?
Inventing suitably humorous chants to poke fun at the Liverpool striker is going to test football’s wittier fans. But if there was ever an absurd, ridiculous and laughable story that cried out for their creative and poetic talents, then Suarez biting Ivanovic’s arm in the Premier League on Sunday was it.
My best effort so far – ”He’s red, he’s white, he really likes to bite, Luis Suarez, Luis Suarez.”
”Red is his color, Dracula’s the name, with his sharp little fangs, he puts you off your game.”
Could be catchier.
”He got the itch, in the middle of the pitch, for a taste of Ivanovic …”
Still, be thankful for small mercies. The Liverpool striker could have munched instead on Cesar Azpilicueta, Ivanovic’s partner in the Chelsea defense. Shakespeare himself would have struggled to make a playful ditty with that name.
With luck, we will not see Suarez in a Liverpool jersey again this season. Hopefully, the Football Association will this week hand him a ban so long that stadium crowds the length and breadth of England have all summer to perfect funny songs they can joyfully direct at Suarez next season.
Nothing really nasty or – dare I say it – horribly biting.
But a suitable degree of public ridicule that will drive home to Suarez that he has made an absolute donkey of himself, again.
Suarez previously served a seven-game suspension for biting another player in the Dutch league in 2010.
The Uruguay international has proved unsporting, too. He shamelessly used his hands to deny Ghana a spot in the semifinals at the 2010 World Cup. He has displayed a penchant for diving to trick referees.
Ugliest of all was his repeated racial abuse of Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in 2011. It should have earned him far more than an eight-match ban. When Suarez later shunned a prematch handshake with Evra, who is black, United manager Alex Ferguson called him ”a disgrace” who should never play for Liverpool again.
But, of course, Suarez did keep playing for Liverpool and likely will keep doing so now. Because he’s such a good player, so slippery and effective with the ball at his feet. In football, such abilities outweigh multiple sins. Bad, even very bad and criminal behavior that in other professions would see people sacked or ostracized is papered over, often with bans and/or fines.
Liverpool was never going to hang Suarez out to dry over his latest loss of control. His value – in monetary terms and in goals scored, 23 in the Premier League this season – is greater than any damage to Liverpool’s brand. Any suggestion that Suarez should be drummed out of football or packed off to a lesser league is a complete non-starter while he continues to play well. Other top teams would snap him up if Liverpool sold him. In football, as in many sports, winning is more important than taking a stand.
Liverpool’s motto is ”You’ll Never Walk Alone.” That would have looked like an empty promise had the club abandoned Suarez for sinking his fangs into Ivanovic’s arm. The club supported Suarez vigorously during the Evra affair, not without cost to its reputation.
Had it let him walk alone now, commentators would have suggested that Liverpool is more embarrassed by players who bite opponents than racially abuse them. So, for the bite, Liverpool fined Suarez – which is not much more than a gesture in a sport that pays so handsomely – but also showed him some love.
”He’s a fantastic player, top scorer and everything we’d want in a striker,” Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre said. ”He’s a very popular player with his teammates. As we keep saying, he signed a new four-year contract last summer and we’d all love to see him here throughout that contract.”
In short, if you want moral leadership, don’t look to football.
In this sport, ”Man bites man” is a gift for headline writers but not really worth getting into a huge froth about.
Had Suarez been a 5-year-old, he could have been made to stand in the corner and forbidden to watch television as punishment for biting.
But a footballer who bites is simply another funny song.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester