Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Soccer clubs will only play ball if we bite into profits

Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez

According to Liverpool Football Club, striker Luis Suarez, who this week attempted to bite a chunk out of opponent Branislav Ivanovic (the name is itself a mouthful) is to be "offered anger management classes."

 

Maybe they'd be better offering him a steak before he takes to the field. Luis is obviously suffering from some sort of deficiency – whether simply nutritional, it's difficult to say. What is pretty apparent in this story of flashing gnashers is that it's not actually the arm-eating Luis who has the real problem. It's the toothless world of football.

For whatever they do to him, short of "offering him the door", it is the so-called beautiful game that will bear the bite-marks.

This week just about every football pundit in the land from Alan Hansen to that loud bloke in the bus queue was sounding off about Luis and his big gub. (It isn't the first time he's bitten an opponent. And he's previously hit the headlines over allegations of racist comments.)

"Indefensible", "unacceptable", "inexcusable." These are just some of the terms used by the footie fraternity. Here's another. Guff.

For that's what all this pious talk amounts to. Suarez's biting attack is in fact, entirely defensible, acceptable and excusable. We know this because football has already all but defended, accepted and excused it.

If it hadn't, Senor Suarez would already be on the flight back home to Uruguay. Without the shirt.

But football in general and Liverpool in particular need the striker. He's described as a footballing genius. He's up for the PFA Footballer of the Year trophy at the weekend. And Liverpool isn't just a football club. It's a business. In blunt business terms it cannot afford to lose its sharp-fanged star.

The statement from the club may say his behaviour is "unacceptable." The reality is however, they are accepting it – because they're keeping him.

The multi-millionaire star is being fined, of course. And he's asked for the money to be given to the undeniably worthy Hillsborough disaster fund.

Does that make what he did any more palatable though?

Is there not something a bit tasteless, self-serving, shabby about attempting to associate his name with such an honourable cause? Football's highest authorities are likely to impose a ban. But again – what's the point?

It's hardly sending a clear, irrevocable message to impressionable youth that biting chunks out of your opponents is not sporting behaviour.

How many of those children who idolise football stars (and whose parents fork out the fortune for replica kits that helps pay those stars) will emulate Suarez? There are already reports of playground copycat biting.

By coincidence on the day that Luis and his molars were all over the back pages, one leading national paper led on the front page with comments by a government minister to the effect that nurseries in the UK are raising a generation of unruly toddlers.

The claim is that because these wee ones are allowed to run wild as they wish, they're are getting up to all sorts of premiership behaviour. Shoving, name-calling, throwing tantrums, biting ... .

The minister believes they should be "offered more structure" to stop them getting more centre forward.

The tots should be taught to behave, in other words.

The irony is that children – even very young children, even in the freest of pre-school provision – are getting that message.

Most nurseries, even those that operate a toddler jungle policy, do not tolerate persistent biters.

Any little Luis biting the boy hogging the Play-Doh would be out on his ear. Good at team games or not. In the multi-billion pound business of football however, the multi-millionaire Suarezes continue to bite the hand that feeds them.

Because the hand that feeds them hasn't the will – or the nerve – to signal stop.

And thus the respect of the fans, the amateur players, the kids, the coaches, all those people who truly love the game, is being worn away.

Football is eating itself.

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