IT IS barely believable that a week ago today, Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez was asked to consider the question of Luis Suarez’s conduct before the following afternoon’s game v England. Tabarez, who came across as a wise and warm man, asked us to remember that football is a game played by human beings.
“We have to accept that sometimes human beings make mistakes,” he explained. But, he advised, the past is the past. We must allow individuals to move on; we should not obsess about incidents that happened, in some cases, several years ago.
When Suarez went out the next day and showed the best of his qualities, scoring twice to send England all-but-spinning from the finals, it was possible to reflect on Tabarez’s words, nod in agreement and conclude that yes, it might now be time to move on; it was now incumbent on us to simply relish an incredible talent. This isn’t so easy now because rather than reinvent himself, Suarez insists on reprising his delinquent behaviour on a football pitch. He is the worst kind of repeat offender, one who says he has changed, says his portrayal has been one huge misunderstanding, and then goes and gives critics something else to chew over, so to speak.
An excellent essay by the sports writer Wright Thompson for ESPN magazine and website aimed to confront the Suarez conundrum before the World Cup. He did not exactly debunk the myth of the player-as-demon, but he certainly provided a fuller picture of the man. In the final analysis, Thompson writes of there being “a thousand clues that might explain what hunger makes Suarez great, and what flaws might one day bring him down”. A referee’s busted nose, sustained after a then 16-year-old Suarez reportedly headbutted him, is one of these clues, as are three biting incidents, the latest of which occurred while he was under scrutiny like never before.
Suarez simply doesn’t allow people to move on. Because of this his World Cup future, possibly his career, now hangs in the balance. Just a few days ago we were lauding his miracle comeback from injury, and he and his agent were presumably revelling in stories of a tug of war between Real Madrid and Barcelona for his services. Now we have to accept it will be a miracle if he sees any further action in this World Cup. How to go from being the most wanted man in football to damaged goods in six days.
It is a monumental shame. Perhaps we had to expect some kind of dark cloud to move across a World Cup of such vibrancy and colour; to remind us of the capacity of the beautiful game to bring out the worst in some people. But then we have already been reminded of this; the revelations about Fifa members taking bungs dominated the World Cup build-up.
Those on the Fifa disciplinary committee now charged with making a judgment on Suarez are members of a governing body of which several individuals have been allegedly exposed as having the morals of an alley cat; is the act of accepting and offering bribes better behaviour than on-field assaults because it occurs while wearing a blazer?
Suarez is a street fighter and perhaps always will be. Indeed, he is providing every reason to suspect he is, well, a bit dim. All three biting episodes have occurred while he has been playing in top-level football matches that are being televised. This latest one takes the biscuit.
It is nearing the end of an intense, winner-takes-all World Cup match, in front of watching millions around the globe. Suarez is jockeying for position in the box with an Italian defender; there is some tugging, as there always is in the Italian box. From whatever angle you re-watch the incident, it doesn’t look good, but from one particular camera position, there seems to be a stomach-churning intent on Suarez’s part to take a chunk out of Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder.
While it has rocked the football firmament the episode has also consumed the attention of other interested parties. Advertising agencies email offering comment on how a brand value can suddenly dip, employment law firms offer expertise on whether Liverpool should throw the book at him or not.
It is a feeding frenzy from which no-one emerges with much credit, including those who think that banning Suarez from the game for years will somehow address the problem.
There will be a ban, and perhaps his World Cup does now deserve to be over. But expelling him from the game would be overreaction from a sport that cannot allow itself to be governed by Twitter and the hysterical reaction emerging from other social media sites. At the heart of the problem is Suarez; he needs help.