Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

FA right to show teeth over Suarez bite

Luis Suarez, pictured, bit Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic at the weekend
Luis Suarez, pictured, bit Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic at the weekend
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 21:  Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea talks with Luis Suarez of Liverpool as they walk in for half time during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on April 21, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea talks with Luis Suarez of Liverpool as they walk in for half time during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on April 21, 2013 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The FA is right to ban Luis Suarez for 10 games and as the ensuing furore will largely come down to a matter of numbers rather than the meaning of one disgusting act of recidivism, it is no hardship to say it at least a thousand times.

Unsurprisingly, given that on recent evidence they would be unlikely to recognise a moral dilemma if it was painted on the side of a blimp hovering above Anfield, Liverpool are shocked and disappointed.

We have the T-shirts to remind us they had a similar reaction when Suarez got eight games for racist abuse, which was one more than administered by the Dutch football authority when he committed his first biting offence two months before Ajax got him out of their building just as soon as they had cashed Liverpool's £22m cheque.

Now we have to brace ourselves for Liverpool's latest defence of the indefensible.

It will, as Jamie Carragher signalled, inevitably involve another torturous examination of the vagaries of football justice. Yes, of course violent play deserves heavy sentencing, especially when whole careers have been put at risk. Of course, Brendan Rodgers was not the first manager to set up the need for all kinds of somersaults after his declaration last Sunday that no player is bigger than the club.

Unfortunately, it appears that the special talent of Suarez has made him so. Listening to Carragher, you might get the impression that his team-mate is some kind of vulnerable plant which needs the protection and nurturing of wiser heads or, at the very least, people who do not commit, while about their professional duties, deeds normally associated with an enraged and ungovernable infant.

Let's remember, before we place too much value on the PFA's offer of anger management and Liverpool's hope that their top-flight sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters will sort out the famous Inner Chimp – after, presumably, he has discovered it is not a full-grown gorilla – that Suarez is not some recent angry graduate from a fetid South America barrio. He is 26 years old and, in the matter of outrageous behaviour, he has thus far proved himself incorrigible.

It started at the age of 15, when he headbutted a referee. In the Netherlands his talent was widely celebrated, he was voted player of the year and then he bit into opponent Otman Bakkal of PSV. He was christened the Cannibal of Ajax, an unwelcome title for anyone associated with the club which gave football the likes of Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten.

At Liverpool he had a grievous record of irresponsibility even before his unprovoked attack on Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic. Recently, Rodgers rebuked him for owning up to a South American news outlet that he committed an outrageous dive against Stoke City. The manager said that it was the kind of thing that damaged the club, but now, you are bound to say, not half as much as the original offence.

If there was any light in all this darkness it was probably the misgivings voiced by the Hillsborough families when they heard that they were the beneficiaries of the only, and deeply pathetic, move made by the club – a £200,000 fine. Suarez apparently insisted that the money should go in that direction, which, of course, wasn't his right, but it was a nice sentimental gesture guaranteed to increase his stock on the terraces and was an easy enough resort for a club whose response was already profoundly supine.

After the grand gesture, Suarez wanted us to know that he would be outraged if he received any sentence more severe than the routine three matches for violent behaviour. This is not so troubling as a mere piece of arrogance as scarily suggestive of a complete lack of understanding about the effect of his actions

His compatriot Gus Poyet brought us back, with a sickening halt, to the possibility that Suarez is occupying a cultural vacuum, one in which the jaunty use of the N-word is no more proscribed than a little chomping of an opponent's flesh.

What is particularly jarring, at least for some, is the blanket argument that football is so riddled with cynically violent play and wholesale cheating that making a special case against the animalistic impact of biting a fellow adult is to lose any sense of perspective. Of course there should be vigilance in all areas of the game – and there should be much stricter guidelines quite divorced from some absurd debates about the relative sins of cheating, over-the-top tackling and spitting. Football is besieged by a powerful sense that it is beyond the magnetic pull of a moral compass and, if we are looking for any conspicuous example, the profile of Luis Suarez surely serves well enough.

A beautiful talent no doubt, but regularly subject to the most grotesque distortion. Racism, unbridled cheating, biting, a blatant absence of anything like lasting remorse, if this is a record that does not invite the most swingeing punishment, it is hard to know quite what is. That thuggish tackling also qualifies, is surely something that scarcely needs to be said.

Some say that Mike Tyson committed a far more serious offence when he chewed into the ear of Evander Holyfield 16 years ago. For the record, he was engaged in a brutal fight and claimed to have been frustrated by Holyfield's use of his head. However, he later admitted: "What I did was something that came from the streets, something that I justified by the fact that I was fighting for my life."

What is the footballer's excuse? Many will be advanced in the next few days. Few of them, if you will forgive the expression, will be worth a volley of luke-warm spit.

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