Suarez's catalogue of disgrace
Racism and cannibalism – it’s not the greatest double, is it? And yet those are the main items on the catalogue of disgrace compiled by Luis Suarez since he joined Liverpool less than two years ago.
Early last season it was explained that "cultural reasons" lay behind the Uruguayan’s use of the word "negrito" to Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during a game. The English soccer authorities nevertheless gave him a 12-game ban (reduced to eight on appeal) while Suarez was fiercely defended by the whole Liverpool family – including then-coach Kenny Dalglish.
Now Dalglish’s successor Brendan Rodgers is put in the equally uncomfortable position of having to respond to a bite – and not just a little nip – on the arm of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic as the pair tussled for possession at Anfield today. It was almost unbelievable. In English soccer we’re used to naughty stuff – but this had everybody numb.
The game began with a joint show of respect to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 and the more recent horrors in Boston. It will be remembered for how it ended – with a headed equalizer, denying Chelsea a 2-1 win in the seventh minute of overtime, from a man who simply shouldn’t have been on the field.
Suarez had also been instrumental in the first Liverpool goal, his sublime pass setting up substitute Daniel Sturridge, and his towering class as a soccer player was evident on other occasions. But his quality as a man was the main talking point afterwards, with former Liverpool midfielder and coach Graeme Souness even comparing him with a baby in a buggy when he can’t get what he wants - the unspoken fear was of what a fully formed male athlete might do with such impulses.
Much was recalled - notably that Suarez had been found guilty of a similar offense when with Ajax in Holland in 2010. On that occasion he bit PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bikkal. Like today, the referee didn’t punish it with even a yellow card, but Dutch authorities reacted to video evidence with a seven-game ban. So clearly their English counterparts are going to have to go beyond that.
Where do we look for precedent? Until yesterday probably the most dramatic disciplinary case concerned Eric Cantona, who, during a Manchester United game at Crystal Palace in January 1995, retaliated against opponent Richard Shaw, was red-carded and, upon being abused by a fan on the way to the tunnel, leapt in his direction and kicked and punched him.
At the Football Association’s suggestion, United suspended Cantona for four months, which the FA later doubled. He was also taken to court, where a two-week sentence was imposed but, on appeal, reduced to 120 hours of community service.
Disgusting though Suarez’s act was, it could be argued that Cantona’s was more violent. So maybe something in between the Dutch seven-game ban and Catona’s eight months would be appropriate. It remains to be seen if the FA have as much resolve as was the case 18 years ago. They seem much more afraid of lawyers now than then.
On the other hand, it could be asked what message will be sent to kids in schools and on public parks throughout the land – and beyond – if Suarez is just banned for the few games left this season and told to come back after the summer with a different attitude to life and, in particular, his fellow professionals’ flesh.
It seems amazing, now, that the weekend began with Suarez on a list from which the professionals will choose their player of the year. There were already strong rumors that the 25 percent of black or mixed-race players would generally ignore his candidacy. But now he should probably be taken off the list altogether.
The journalists’s award of Footballer Of The Year is, anyway, the more prestigious one – I would say that , wouldn’t I? – and I expect my own favorite, Gareth Bale, of Tottenham, to obtain the verdict. It was a just such a pity that Suarez chose to overshadow Bale’s performance today.
The Welshman made the equalizer against Manchester City and then sealed victory with an elegantly taken goal at White Hart Lane on his comeback from injury. That was the EPL race all but ended. Manchester United can clinch their 20th title by beating relegation-threatened Aston Villa at Old Trafford tomorrow. But I guess people will still be talking about Suarez. After all, we have seen United win the title before. We’ve never seen anyone - even Suarez - make such a meal of a tackle.