Another day, another controversy involving Luis Suarez. A player who should be hailed as one of the greatest is instead becoming one of the most unlikable. That perhaps, is the biggest shame of all. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
There are many flaws that sports fans are willing to overlook for talent. Diving, kicking, cheating, and even personal flaws like struggles with drugs and alcohol, being unfaithful to one’s partner or being a crook. But talent only takes you so far, and there is only a certain extent to which an envelope can be pushed before it bends.
Luis Suarez has not only bent the envelope – he’s set it on fire for good measure. After biting a player for the third time, he has been banned from all football for four months, fined £66,000 and blocked from entering any stadium. He will not be able to train with his club or country and will miss the rest of the World Cup. Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini was the victim this time and the oddity of it all was not helped by Suarez’s response. Hilariously, Suarez dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes and clutched his teeth in the process as if to say: he was the one who shoved his shoulder into my mouth!
His lawyer has called it a conspiracy, and extended the focal point of that conspiracy from England to Europe.
“We don’t have any doubts that this has happened because it’s Suarez and secondly because Italy was eliminated,” said Uruguay FA board member Alejandro Balbi, who is also Suarez’s lawyer.
“There’s a lot of pressure from England and Italy,” Balbi told local Uruguayan radio. “We’re polishing off a defence argument.
“There is a possibility that they ban him, because there are precedents, but we’re convinced that it was an absolutely casual play, because if Chiellini can show a scratch on one shoulder, Suarez can show a bruised and almost shut eye,” Balbi added.
“If every player starts showing the injuries he suffers, and they open inquiries for them, everything will be way too complicated in the future. We’re going to use all the arguments possible so that Luis gets out in the best possible way.”
Those kinds of comments really aren’t helping Suarez’s case. The ban is, in its essence, fair. In its essence, the incident is violent conduct by a repeat offender. But there is something about biting somebody that sits quite uncomfortably. Tackles and elbows are expected. Head butts that happen in a moment of madness are forgiven and laughed at, but biting somebody? That’s beyond comprehension. The theory for this differs depending on who you ask. Some say it’s as simple as “something you don’t expect on a football field”, despite what Suarez says. Others go further and theorise that there are a couple of Freudian, sexualised undertones, while still others add a cannibalistic theory or two and the whole “taboo” of being told as a tot not to bite anybody. However you spin it, though, just like any other intended violent conduct, it is indefensible.
Yet defenders of the Uruguayan (yes, they walk amongst us) have said that players like Eric Cantona (who kicked a spectator in the chest) and players like Zinedine Zidane (with his famous head butt) have committed similar atrocious acts; ergo, Suarez is being picked on for being Suarez. While it is true that players have reputations that precede them and create bias, an eye for an eye does not justify Suarez’s actions. In fact, it makes it worse. He has done it before.
He has been banned for it before. He has apologised for it before. Like the boy who cried wolf, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe whatever bile it is that Suarez chokes up in order to defend his actions. And worse yet, it is completely overshadowing the undeniable fact that he is a supremely talented footballer who should be hailed as one of the best ever, but is increasingly becoming the most unlikable ever instead.
Those who have some sort of sympathetic bone in their body will know that Suarez’s struggles stretch as far back as his youth. They will also know that there is a good side to Suarez. When he was a kid, working as a street sweeper, he met his now-wife, Sofia Balbi. Because he was poor, he would pick up coins from the street while working so that he could take her out. When her family relocated to Spain, he decided that if he became really good at soccer, he would get a team to fly him to Europe and they could live happily ever after. The plan worked and Suarez rose through the ranks, married his blonde-haired girl and now has a very happy family.
The two shades of Suarez are almost incomprehensible. But he is clearly a scared man. He is scared of going back to that desperate life he escaped from. Anything that gets in his way, that will make him or his team lose, is treated with contempt. Anything that puts his current position in life in jeopardy becomes a pest. Whether that’s a defender blocking him from scoring or press questioning his actions, he wants to eliminate them. It was evident in his baulking after scoring the two goals which knocked England out of the World Cup. “One for the haters, who questioned my attitude” was his paraphrased response. Only his attitude and his work rate when it comes to the sport has never been questioned. His attitude towards being a sensible human being has and that has nothing to do with his talent.
For that, he needs help. To achieve what Suarez has is incredible. To rise above his circumstances is the perfect “feel good” story we so desperately want to hear from the stars. His family man side is endearing. His persistence to never fail is inspiring. There is time for redemption; he is only 27 years old. But that redemption will take a complete and concentrated effort from all of those who have not lost faith in him yet. DM
Photo: Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini (L) claims he was bitten by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez (R) during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group D preliminary round match between Italy and Uruguay at the Estadio Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, 24 June 2014.
"Joyfully to the breeze royal Odysseus spread his sail and with his rudder skillfully he steered." ~ Homer