It’s Friday. Divert your mind from alcohol and take time to consider why @AmyEustace thinks Liverpool’s best course of action could be to take this one on the chin…
Moments of madness are hardly unheard of in football, but they usually at least follow some sort of provocation, like when Marco Materazzi’s insults earned him a swift head-butt to the chest from Zinedine Zidane, or Eric Cantona’s Kung Fu reaction to a Crystal Palace fan’s stream of invective.
But this? This was spontaneous combustion. By the looks of it, Luis Suarez simply got the munchies, and now Liverpool are paying the price to the tune of a 10 game suspension, and the rest of us are subjected to another mind-numbingly tedious Liverpool versus The FA face-off.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you’ll know by now that Suarez, one of the most divisive characters to grace Premier League soil, has been at it again. Just when you thought it was safe to go outside, he’s only gone and had a nibble of Branislav Ivanovic’s upper arm – another controversy to add to the ever-growing list.
The incident itself was truly bizarre viewing. The Liverpool striker tussled with Ivanovic for the ball and, as it ran out from under their feet, the red mist appeared to descend. Suarez seized the Serbian defender’s arm and had a good chomp. There were no handbags, no posturing, barely a word uttered between the pair.
“There are two of me, two different people,” Suarez said last year, after the furore surrounding his racism charge died down somewhat, referring to the difference between the family man role he occupies at home and the hot-tempered image he has been associated with on the pitch. His team-mates will all attest to his good nature off the pitch, but if all that is true, Suarez has a serious case of the Dr-Jekyll-and-Mr-Hydes.
Brendan Rodgers has already come out in a strident defence of his striker, suggesting that the punishment was ‘against the man rather than the incident’. Here, perspective is important, and it’s pertinent to consider the fact that the last memorable instance of biting in the Premier League went largely unpunished.
Jermain Defoe wasn’t suspended for chewing the arm of Javier Mascherano back in 2006. The justification from the FA was that ‘the referee has already dealt with the incident’ and FIFA regulations prohibit them from re-refereeing matches, but a jump from a mere yellow card to a ten game ban seems a little preposterous.
The problem in cases like these with the FA is that their punishments appear entirely arbitrary. It’s hard to judge the value in matches of each foul, but that a bite leaving no physical damage could be subject to a suspension more than three times that of a leg-breaking tackle has understandably left Liverpool fans in a state of outrage, defensiveness and confusion.
Suarez keeps digging his own grave
It’s not the FA they should be mad at, mind. If Suarez would only stop serving himself up on a silver platter with a side salad for some transgression or other, they wouldn’t be able to periodically ban him from the game. We’re all used to the FA’s incompetency by now. Most players have the good sense not to get on their bad side if they can help it; Suarez simply keeps digging his own grave.
At this stage, there’s talk of whether or not Liverpool should get rid of the Uruguayan forward and put the whole bloody mess behind them, but that would involve the sacrifice of a player who has scored 23 goals for Liverpool this season, when no other player in the club has scored more than nine. That said, Liverpool’s win percentage with Suarez is 39% but jumps to 56% without. It’s a tenuous stat, one that hasn’t really been tested apart from during his last ban, but Liverpool will find out how they’ll fare without him in due course anyway.
It’s easy to send players packing when they’re lower down the pecking order. Jamie Carragher acknowledged that this week with reference to former Liverpool third-choice goalkeeper Charles Itandje, who was exiled after messing about at a Hillsborough Memorial ceremony. You can bet if Stewart Downing bit someone he’d be out the door faster than you could say ‘Hannibal Lecter’.
How do you ‘rehabilitate’ a biter?
A certain amount of wiggle room is awarded to those who can fall back on their talent and much of Carragher’s argument centred on the famous Liverpool players of the past who have committed misdemeanours. None of them bit anyone, though. That’s the distinction. Headbutts, punches and malicious tackles are thuggish – it’s the animalistic nature of the act that people are struggling to grasp.
What do you do with someone like that? Brendan Rodgers spoke of ‘rehabilitation’ in his press conference yesterday, which at least suggests that the club have recognised that Suarez truly does have a problem, but how do you ‘rehabilitate’ a biter? Suarez is no toddler. He can’t be put on the naughty step. He can’t be taught why it’s wrong, because according to himself and everyone at the club, he already knows.
The PFA have offered anger management, and the club is hoping its psychiatrist, Dr Steve Peters – the man who is said to have calmed down Craig Bellamy, which can’t have been easy – can help matters. Perhaps, in the significant downtime he will have over the coming months, Suarez can take up knitting, or at the very least invest in a chew toy.
He has already been at the centre of rumours of a move away from Anfield, and this will make it all the more tempting. If he leaves halfway through his ban and continues to play in another country, the punitive effect of the FA’s ban is eradicated. In that situation, the only party that loses out is Liverpool, who’ll no doubt have to sell him cut-price seeing as everyone and their cat knows that they won’t be able to field him for months regardless.
One solution for Liverpool…
Suarez would go on with life as normal, although, if they continued, his occasional outbursts of irresponsibility will probably dog him for the rest of his life. At least elsewhere he might avoid the level of microscopic scrutiny his entire existence has undergone since becoming entangled with the English game. That is, if anyone is willing to put up with his shenanigans.
It’s a terrible tragedy when talent like Luis Suarez’s is marred by so many lapses in judgement, but Liverpool haven’t been forced into the Sophie’s Choice scenario of having a great player on its books or salvaging what’s left of their reputation. There is a middle ground here, somewhere, but it’s not a blind defence of the player that has caused them so many headaches in his short stay on Merseyside.
Maybe, the right path is merely to take the FA’s ban on the chin and issue an admission along the lines of, “Yes, we know that he’s a nutcase and we’re going to work on that, but he’s a ruddy unbelievably talented nutcase and we want him to stick around.”
Would that really be so hard?
Klopp lost for words
As much as I fawned over Borussia Dortmund in last week’s column, I wasn’t expecting two comprehensive German victories in this week’s Champions League semi-finals. Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp was understandably flustered after his team beat Real Madrid 4-1. He said something not entirely coherent about Robin Hood and an arrow that the press has picked up on as meaning he felt it was a ‘rob from the rich’-type scenario. Bless.
Wilshere and Welbeck the odd ones out
The PFA award nominations are out, with Gareth Bale, a hungry Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie predictably making the six man shortlist along with Michael Carrick, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata. Despite the glaring omission of Michu, the real shock was in the Young Player of the Year shortlist, which included Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck. Wilshere has been in and out of the Arsenal side this year due to injury, while Welbeck’s one goal this term is a poor return for a striker at any level. Completing the YPOTY list are senior nominees Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard, as well as Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke.
Manchester United can hit another record
Manchester United may have run away with the Premier League title, but the season isn’t over yet and they could still rake in a record points total in the remaining five matches. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea set the bar in 2004/2005 with 95, so if United win all five games they’ll pip them to the honour with 96. Looks like Robin Van Persie found his scoring boots just in the nick of time.