Luis Suarez’s future in English football hung in the balance after he bit an opponent for the second time in his career yesterday.
The Liverpool striker last night apologised for biting the Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic and will face an internal club inquiry into the incident which overshadowed both Rafael Benitez’s return to Anfield and his own immense contribution to a 2-2 draw in which he scored the equaliser deep into added time.
Midway through the second half after a tussle with Ivanovic, Suarez turned and bit him on the arm and, although the Chelsea player protested to the referee, Kevin Friend appeared not to have seen it. That leaves the way open for the Football Association to take its own disciplinary action on top of anything imposed by Liverpool.
The club’s former assistant manager Phil Thompson thought he would receive “a 10-game ban at least”. Former Liverpool manager Graeme Souness questioned whether he could remain on Merseyside given the continuing embarrassment he has inflicted on the club – even one for whom he scored his 30th goal of the season yesterday. Jamie Redknapp, a former Liverpool midfielder, added: “It was an incredible act of brutality. It’s madness.”
When in November 2010, Suarez bit the PSV Eindhoven midfielder, Otman Bakkal, while playing for Ajax, he was given a seven-match ban and never played in the Dutch Eredivisie again. His racist abuse of the Manchester United defender Patrice Evra earned him an eight-match ban last season.
Suarez, who had vigorously defended himself against the racism charge, immediately apologised for this offence. "I am deeply sorry for my inexcusable behaviour earlier today during our match against Chelsea," he said. "I have tried to contact Branislav Ivanovic to speak to him personally. I apologise to my manager, playing colleagues and everyone at Liverpool Football Club for letting them down."
The club viewed the incident so seriously that managing director Ian Ayre cancelled a flight to Australia, where Liverpool are due to tour this summer, to deal with it.
"His behaviour is not befitting of any player wearing a Liverpool shirt," he said. "Luis is aware he has let himself and everyone associated with the club down. We will deal with the matter internally and await any action from the FA."
The Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, indicated he would speak to the club's owner, John W Henry, before deciding what sanctions to take.
Rodgers said Suarez's reputation should not offer him any protection. "Players are always replaceable, it does not matter how good they think they are," he said. "There have been some wonderful talents here over the years but when you think you cannot replace a player another comes along."