BY MARK GODFREY
Tomorrow, the world’s second most notorious bite fiend will find out whether he has to observe the full set of restrictions handed down to him by FIFA for his third, and most recent attempt at emulating Bram Stoker’s famous literary creation.
The debate has never been whether the comprehensive censure for his unprovoked attack on Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup was merited or not (although for some strange reason his Uruguayan team mates and countrymen vehemently challenged any guilty charge with the same rabid denial afforded to him by his Liverpool colleagues and their fans following his misdemeanours at Anfield) but if the length and severity of the ban was in line with the crime he perpetrated.
Right away I have to disclose my allegiance is to Everton – arch rivals of his former employers, but I am not going to let that cloud my judgement and the views expressed in this article are those of a committed advocate of fair play and justice.
So much hoopla surrounds Suarez – good and bad. He is a player of immense talent; capable of skill and technique beyond the wildest dreams of all but the very best of his contemporaries and the fee recently paid by Barcelona to Liverpool to secure his services reflects the position to which his incredible displays for club and country (rather than being based predominately on vast image marketing possibilities) have elevated him to over the last four or five years.
One must remember that the ‘beast’ has lived inside Suarez for much longer than the duration of his time in the Premier League. He arrived in England under the cloud of his first biting incident while playing for Dutch giants Ajax – an attempt at taking a chunk out of PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal in 2010 earning him a seven match ban.
Suarez’s contentious reputation was ramped up the scale from controversial to toxic following the Patrice Evra racism incident and I haven’t even touched upon the countless examples of ‘gamesmanship’ – or cheating as it’s more commonly known – that have continually eroded the varnish from an otherwise superb career to date.
Even his second dentally-primed attack on Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in April 2013 failed to arrest his upward trajectory through football’s ranks despite many believing that the subsequent 10-game ban spelt the end, not only on Merseyside, but in the game altogether.
During that particular enforced absence, Liverpool and the player sought professional help to understand why these bizarre behaviours continued to happen, and for the most part, it seemed apparent last year through his improved on-field conduct that these complex psychological puzzles had been solved – or at least repressed.
It seemed that the ‘new’ Luis Suarez – and more especially his scintillating performances – convinced many that the bad old times were banished forever and that his character was indeed reformed. The superficial shine reflecting from the astonishing goals and match-winning displays were enough to fool fans and much more surprisingly, the media. Deservedly, Suarez won the plaudits and the accolades based on the only things that should really matter – the football.
But can such a deranged and maladjusted leopard change its spots so readily?
Personally, I never believed he could and such a divisive figure split opinion straight down the middle. Sure, the diving and the play-acting decreased, as did the raised feet that were left in the tackle all-too-often. However, that devil inside is entrenched in the psyche; always lurking beneath the surface, hellbent on self-destruction.
The World Cup – his opportunity to show why he deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the finest players on the planet and to showcase his credentials as a likely future Barcelona signing – was a pot of steadily boiling frustration for Suarez. An injury toward the end of last season affected his fitness ahead of the competition, forcing him to sit out Uruguay’s opening game – a shock defeat to Costa Rica.
His game winning brace against England, of all nations, gave the 2010 semi-finalists a chance of redemption, setting up the tense winner-takes-all qualification clash with Italy in Natal. With time running out and the Italians down to 10 men, the turgid encounter and Uruguay’s impending elimination proved too much for the man whose childish, uncontrollable, knife-edge rage exploded onto an otherwise innocuous penalty area situation.
What occurred, both at full speed and in super-duper slow motion was all too evident and obvious. No mistake could be made in interpretation or intent. Incredibly, just like at Anfield 14 months earlier, none of the officials saw the incident in the heat of battle, but TV evidence once again had Suarez bang to rights.
FIFA acted swiftly and justly and banned the repeat offender for four months from all football activities. The player and his representatives have repeatedly claimed this to be excessive and demand that he be allowed, at least, to train with his new club in Spain.
Yet again with Luis Suarez and his ever-increasing list of charges, there is little acceptance of responsibility. And why would there be, with people falling over themselves to indulge his unacceptable and – in sporting terms certainly – grotesque acts of violence? We know that Suarez has since apologised for the Chiellini bite– eventually, and only to lay a smoother path for his long-expected transfer to Spain – but the ridiculous charade and spurious excuses that came before it only served to mock anyone unfortunate enough to have heard them.
The motivation for this desperate attempt at evasion is, of course, purely financial – money talks and bullshit walks, as they say – Barcelona and Suarez need Suarez to be available for selection as soon as possible to justify the colossal investment made in the player’s summer transfer, especially given the ominous look of Real Madrid’s challenge this year.
One can potentially sympathise with the star striker not being able to visit his new stadium or even train with his new team mates, but any leniency or reduction of the ban – particularly from all forms of club and international football – by the Court of Arbitration for Sport will only send out a mute message; not to other players, because who else would continue to flout the expected code of decency on a football field, but particularly to this individual who repeats his indiscretions despite all the reasonable punitive measures that have been previously handed down. In this specific case, this one incident cannot be judged alone given everything that has gone before.
I, for one, hope that this ban will be upheld and serve as the final, final chance for Luis Suarez to redeem himself; if he were a cat, his nine lives would be virtually depleted. But lastly, and primarily for Suarez’s own benefit, let’s also hope that the long line of flunkies, apologists and sycophants – to whom a significant amount of blame for enabling his behaviour must be apportioned – finally reject his incredible footballing feats as mitigation. Maybe only then will we see the end of the pontification and he can finally win over his detractors.