It is arguable that Liverpool has never had a more complex or controversial player than Luis Suarez. Drifting between Jekyll and Hyde, Suarez is capable of moments of sublime skill and complete madness.
Suarez is a classic pantomime villain; given the perception of Suarez in England you would believe that he was a physcopath with a rap sheet that trumps any player in the history of the game.
But here is a question… How many times has Luis Suarez caused serious injury to a fellow professional? Yes there have been (too many) moments where he has ‘lost it’ and reacted stupidly, but how many incidents have been pre-meditated acts of violence?
The biggest issue with Luis Suarez is the almost child-like way he approaches the game. His biggest flaw is reacting in a way that he would have done 15 years ago playing football on the streets of Uruguay. His instinctive reaction is often something we find culturally reprehensible in this country.
Suarez has often been described as a street footballer; and that is as close as you will get to understanding his mind set. In England footballers are moulded through a structured league from the age of four. That means that by the time most players reach professional status; the rough edges have been smoothed out. Well, in most cases.
You can point to a multitude of indiscretions from ‘top’ British players that fall into the category of Suarez demonised sins: John Terry for racial abuse, Jermaine Defoe for biting, Gareth Bale and Michael Owen for diving. In fact if the new media fad is to stand in moral judgement of footballers Terry, Rooney, and Giggs have hardly been ‘role models’ off the field either.
Luis Suarez’s journey through football has been very different to that of an English player. Suarez was educated in South America, where culturally, the game can be very different; especially as a child learning the game.
Whilst the likes of Owen and Terry were being educated at the FA school of excellence, Suarez was learning his trade on the streets of Uruguay. You can see it in his game; his ability to control the ball and beat players.
There is no defence for biting, diving or the use of racial language in the English game. But on the streets of Uruguay you can imagine that anything goes.
At 26 you would assume that Suarez has learnt the difference between right and wrong. But the same with any English footballer you care to mention; there will always be moments where you react in the wrong way. Whereas an English player may well fly into a reckless tackle, Suarez tends to react in a way that is what he knows.
We expect our footballers to be perfect. But who is perfect? The moral demonising of Suarez is hypocritical. It also fails to understand that Luis Suarez comes from a very different background to people in England. Judging his actions by English standards is an easy trap to fall into; but it fails to recognise that what drives Suarez instincts is the journey of education he has experienced to reach the top of the game.
The media demonisation
Luis Suarez is the perfect media ‘villain’. He is the anti-Christ of what English football culture finds acceptable. Whilst the media often turn a blind eye to indiscretions by British players the actions of foreign players receive far more focus. And Suarez provides plenty of ammunition.
The Suarez and Liverpool reaction to the Evra incident is the primary reason why the media have made Suarez the cover boy of bad behaviour in England. Plenty in the media saw the opportunity to use that issue to stand on a pulpit of indignation. And when Liverpool and Suarez refused to conform; it created a monster of epic proportions.
The nuances of the Evra case have been debated to death. And whilst nobody with a moral compass condones racial abuse of any kind; it is a perfectly acceptable position to understand that the concept of what constitutes ‘racism’ will differ from culture to culture.
The one thing that is certain is that in England we are clear on what constitutes racism, so when an English player uses racial language there is no grey area.
The difficulty Suarez faces post Evra is that anything he does which falls below the standards English football expects is always going to lose any kind of perspective. How many footballers have to play under the burden of expectation that conduct will be perfect on the pitch? It is completely unrealistic to expect any footballer, in the heat of battle, not to react on occasion.
The challenge for Suarez is to try and limit that reaction, and aside from the incident with Ivanovich, it is clear he has been making an effort to curb that impulsive, self-destructive side of his character.
But the monster the media have created is not a fair reflection of a player that plays on instinct. At times that instinct crosses the line of what English culture deems acceptable; but does that make Suarez the devil? The perception that many in the media have created would make you think so.
When the Prime Minister feels compelled to comment you do not need any further evidence that the media demonisation of a player has gone too far. It is not the job of the Prime Minister to comment on a football disciplinary matter. It is political opportunism at its worst and ugliest.
Those in the media that want Suarez kicked out of England make a mockery of the claim that England is a tolerant and multi-cultural country. It also gives some insight into the type of Nationalism that is so prevalent in English footballing culture.
Treated with fairness
Let’s be clear, Luis Suarez is not a victim in any of this. It is his actions that have created problems; and he has failed to try and iron out the character flaws in his game, and adapt to the differing expectations of acceptable behaviour in English football.
But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t entitled to be treated with fairness by the footballing authorities. The difficulty that Suarez faces is that any incident in which he is involved will be viewed differently because of who he is.
In both cases where Suarez has been retrospectively punished by the FA he has been found guilty and judged in a trial by media. This has meant that on neither occasion he has been given a fair hearing. On both occasions the FA have reacted to the headlines and decided to use Suarez as an example.
There has been absolutely zero consideration to precedents that have been set or comparable incidents in the past. Suarez has quite literally been judged purely subjectively by an ‘independent’ panel that makes a mockery of the word independent.
There isn’t an anti-Liverpool bias; it is purely the FA playing to the gallery. Something they have been guilty of on many occasions; discipline in football is dished out on the hoof.
The Government have been calling for reform at the FA for years. This is because the current disciplinary process means that the FA can shape any verdict to suit the headlines. And they consistently do so. That isn’t fairness; and it means that any player in England that the media finds guilty will never stand a chance of a fair hearing.
In total Luis Suarez will have been banned for 18 games in two separate FA hearings for incidents that others have received far less sanction. If you combine John Terry’s sanction for racial abuse and Eden Hazard’s for kicking a ball boy it adds up to 7 games. So the FA deems Suarez offences to be 11 games worse?
If you read the farcical written reasons for the Suarez / Ivanovic incident it is clear that because the game was on television, and trended on Twitter in the immediate aftermath, that influenced the sanction of ten games. Does that mean biting somebody in League 2 only means a five game ban? Precedent says the answer to that is yes. That can’t be right.
Suarez and Liverpool
You wouldn’t blame Suarez for considering his future. He has done some stupid things in his career, but how many of them have resulted in serious injury to a fellow professional? English football does not and will never get Luis Suarez. It is up to him to decide whether he can change his game enough to reign in his natural instincts.
Suarez and Liverpool are in a difficult position. The media portrayal of Suarez means that any time the club tries to question a sanction the reputation of the club becomes the dominant factor.
What seems to have been lost is that Liverpool and its supporters have every right to question the disciplinary process. It isn’t the role of the media to decide that the club should passively accept any ruling without a right to ask questions of the process.
Nobody at Liverpool will defend the indefensible. But is it too much to ask if Luis Suarez or any player has a disciplinary issue they are dealt with fairly and consistently.
If Luis Suarez decides to leave Liverpool this country will be losing one of the most talented players in world football. Is that in the best interests of the English game?
Surely on both occasions that Suarez has been before the FA sanction and rehabilitation would have been a fairer and more constructive solution to helping him address the flaws in his character.
Luis Suarez might be a complex character and pantomime villain; but any perspective on Suarez has been lost in a tidal wave of finger pointing. He has issues he needs to resolve, but the devil he is not.