This is the worst time for 'Cannibal' Luis Suarez to hurt Liverpool
The timing is dismal for reasons we can assume Luis Suarez does not have the faintest notion of.
This is the week of the preliminary legal hearing which will set out parameters for new inquests for the 96 Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough. It is another big step on the 24-year road to justice led by Anne Williams, who refused to accept the establishment lies about the death of her son, Kevin, and whose own death, five days ago, was remembered with a minute's applause at Anfield yesterday.
That is all testament to the qualities of dignity and unyielding resolve to which Liverpool FC are wedded – they call it the "Liverpool Way" - and all of which will now be drowned by another Suarez controversy. As Brendan Rodgers fought last night to keep out of the storm which raged all around him, it was left to one of his predecessors, Graeme Souness, to tell of the real collateral damage Suarez had inflicted. "It is about safeguarding the name of the football club," he said.
Rodgers' initial attempts to somehow deflect the controversy by drawing a parallel with a Fernando Torres challenge on Jamie Carragher was a clumsy, slightly desperate strategy, as much as Rafael Benitez arguing relentlessly about the six minutes and 45 seconds of injury time was farcical, when outside on the pitch a footballer had shown that his first episode of biting on the field of play, three years ago, was not a one-off.
A Liverpool press statement was welcome last night, though the club cannot wait beyond the course of today to act because the reputational damage will be global. It was to the eternal shame of Liverpool's owners, Fenway Sports Group, that Liverpool's name shame was even paraded in the New York Times – "Another ugly incident mars Liverpool's good name" – after Suarez directed the word "negro" at Patrice Evra and later refused to shake the player's hand, having been convicted of racist conduct by a Football Association Tribunal. That was a scandal presided over by a Kenny Dalglish, who looked like a 1980s manager who'd woken up in the 21st century, and his managing director, Ian Ayre, who looked unable to handle "The King". Liverpool must not await a Football Association decision before taking action.
When Manchester United saw the enormous significance of the Eric Cantona's kung-fu kick on Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Symonds in January 1995, they moved before the FA did and hit their talisman with a pre-emptive six-month ban. Liverpool require something equally strong now. Ten games – their former assistant manager Phil Thompson's suggestion last night – looks like the minimum range. Liverpool appointed a new internal communications director, Susan Black, on Friday, incidentally. Welcome to Anfield.
The bind for Liverpool is their deep footballing dependence on this player. Anyone with an affection for the club will want to believe that dispensing this summer with the man the Dutch press came to label as the "Cannibal of Ajax" is unnecessary. But that notion is predicated on the notion that this deeply complex individual is not beyond redemption. His shift from affable to borderline psychotic temperament makes that seem a remote prospect.
What on earth must we make of this individual, who will smile as he slopes around Melwood in flip-flops, explaining to journalists the subtleties of Uruguayan Mate herb tea, and yet behave like this? "My wife says that if I was like I am on the pitch away from it, she would not be with me any more," he once said and his prolific four years at Ajax, from 2007, revealed why. It is hard to watch the footage of Suarez biting the shoulder of PSV Eindhoven's Otman Bakkal, in November 2010, without flinching. The Uruguayan's apology at the time, if taken at face value, reveals he felt he was operating outside of himself in the heat of battle.
"As the captain of the club I know I took a decision that was wrong," he said a week after the incident. "In those moments, your heartbeat is very high and sometimes you don't think about what you are doing. I am very sorry about that. I am very critical of myself. I am not like that. From this point on, I need to work harder." Work at what, Suarez did not make clear. The statement, shot on location in Spain, did not include an apology to Bakkal and Dutch journalists considered it hollow.
Some, like Fulham manager Martin Jol who managed him at Ajax, have suggested that Suarez is manageable. "You can make a mistake, and I can forgive you or tell you that it's unforgivable. There are always two options," Jol said, though he also made a dreadful attempt to cover the Bakkal incident with humour. "Maybe he was hungry..." the Dutchman said. The player's Eredivisie career was over. He never returned from a seven-game ban.
It was Ron Jans, Suarez's coach at his previous Dutch club Groningen, who observed that this player's problem was an overwhelming will to win which he simply couldn't curtail. "He has to learn that doing everything cannot be enough to win," he said, desperate for Suarez to lose some of the visceral energy from his game, which Jans located in his South American background, within the rough city limits of Salto near Uruguay's border with Argentina. Five years on, nothing has changed.
Fifa are also currently investigating Suarez for allegedly punching Chile defender Gonzalo Jara during a South American World Cup qualifier last month, though there were suggestions that the Nottingham Forest player had grabbed his genitals.
Suarez might actually be named Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year this weekend, since votes were cast before yesterday. Revoking such a vote would be unprecedented.
On the day when Manchester United will probably clinch a 20th title, Liverpool grapple with how to redeem their only world class player. For them, it is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.
Belfast Telegraph Digital