Did Luis Suarez really say 'negro' seven times?
The Football Association's Independent Regulatory Commission report on Luis Suarez was the most detailed of its kind, yet the unsparing detail of its 115 pages has left an unresolved and slightly unsettling issue.
It is the hugely significant question of how many times the Liverpool player really did direct the word "negro" or "negros" at Manchester United's Patrice Evra at Anfield.
Suarez admits using it once – and would have been well advised to apologise immediately for that – though the conclusion open to question is that Evra must have been right when he said he heard it seven times because, in the three-man commission's view, he was a more reliable witness than Suarez.
This point is central to a paper on the findings of the regulatory commission, by the lawyer Daniel Geey, which has been published by the respected Liverpool website, The Tomkins Times. Geey's Liverpool affiliations will perhaps be seized upon by those of a United disposition, though he argues persuasively that if Evra did hear the offending word seven times then the fact ought to have surfaced from one of nine contemporaneous witnesses at Anfield on 15 October, who only appeared to have heard the Frenchman complain about being abused on one occasion. The figure seven was established from adding up the claims Evra made in total, in subsequent interviews
Close analysis of the commission's 115-page report shows that Evra's first allegation of the abuse came when he said to referee Andre Marriner, on the pitch: "Ref, he just called me a f**king black." The commission report revealed that Evra next told Ryan Giggs that "he called me black" (once again, no reference to the number of times). After the game the defender spoke to Antonia Valencia, Javier Hernandez, Nani and Anderson who, in their witness statements, made no mention of multiple use. The players made the claim that Suarez "would not talk to Evra because he was black".
Sir Alex Ferguson's initial statement also alluded to a single reference and though Liverpool's administration manager, Ray Haughan, claimed he heard Ferguson say the word had been used "five times", the commission report noted that the United manager "did not recall having said specifically that it was five times. Mr Evra did not mention... any specific number that he told Sir Alex at the time".
It was only in a post-match interview with French television station Canal+ that Evra said the word had been used 10 times, though he later retracted this as a statement of fact, suggesting instead that "'10 times' was just a figure of speech in France". This means that the first time Evra claimed and actually set out that he was abused multiple times by Suarez was at the earliest on 20 October – four days after the match – in his first FA interview.
The commission's conclusions on Evra's "10 times" claim are also puzzling. The commission report says Liverpool's French director of football, Damien Comolli, had agreed with Evra's claim that it was a figure of speech. Yet Comolli actually said in his witness evidence that "nobody in the French language will say [10 times as a figure of speech]". Geey asks whether the testimonies of Liverpool's Spanish-speaking players – Lucas, Maxi Rodriguez and Sebastian Coates – might not have been useful in clarifying precisely what Suarez said.
Geey's argument is not that the commission came to the wrong decision in interpreting that Suarez used an abusive term in contravention of FA Rule E3(1). Rather, it is that the inconsistencies should have led it to question the credibility of Evra's evidence – and ask whether Suarez really used the offending term more than once. Liverpool might, at the very least, have appealed the number of Suarez's alleged offences, Geey believes. Such an appeal, if successful, might have reduced both Suarez's penalty and the enduring damage to his reputation. Instead, the history books will always decree that Suarez used the word "negro" seven times.