This column must start with Giorgio Chiellini’s reaction because he’s the latest victim of Luis Suarez’s on-field felony: “Suarez is a sneak and he gets away with it because Fifa want their stars to play in the World Cup. I’d love to see if they have the courage to use video evidence against him,” said the Italy centre-half after Suarez sank his teeth into his left shoulder during the World Cup Group D decider against Uruguay. He went on: “The referee saw the bite mark too, but he did nothing about it.”
A serial offender, Suarez doesn’t have the education or dignity for repentance. So it was not surprising that he described the whole bite-gate as “casual play”. He and his associates—from Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez to captain Diego Lugano and a very partisan home media—rather hit out at the “conspiracy theory” floated by the English and Italians. But much to Chiellini’s relief—and everyone who considers football a beautiful game—Fifa has come down severely on Suarez, handing him a four-month ban from any football activity, which includes a nine-match suspension for Uruguay. Suarez won’t be even able to train or enter a football stadium during this period.
“Such behaviour cannot be tolerated on any football pitch and, in particular, not at the Fifa World Cup when the eyes of millions of people are on the stars on the field,” said Fifa disciplinary committee chairman Claudio Sulser.
A line had to be drawn somewhere, for Suarez has now made it a habit of biting his rivals to dust. His attack on Chiellini was as mindboggling as it was shameful. It came without any apparent provocation. Video evidence was conclusive. Suarez had to be condemned to self-inflicted ignominy.
And now, there’s every possibility that he will have to walk alone. Liverpool defended him vehemently after he racially abused Patrice Evra and was suspended for eight matches. Manager Brendan Rodgers personally spoke to him after he unleashed his gnashers on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic in 2013. It was an offence that saw him get a 10-game ban. Before that, in 2010, there was the incident involving PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal. A chomp on the latter’s shoulder had incurred a punishment of seven matches for Suarez. ‘The Cannibal of Ajax’, cried Dutch paper De Telegraaf. The 27-year-old, always in denial mode, refuses to learn from his mistakes. Liverpool, a great football institution with a huge global fan following, now has to take a decision.
Just forget that Suarez’s latest crime was committed in his national team colours. It’s the Merseyside club that feeds him. And they just simply can’t allow an individual to tarnish their reputation time and again. Rodgers would be hugely disappointed. He mother-henned the mercurial Uruguayan and was relieved to see the player making all the right noises this past season on and off the field. Suarez was impeccable with his football and led the club’s revival in the Premier League. At the Melwood training base, he worked as a mentor for Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson and helped them grow in stature. His acceptance speech at the PFA player of the year award ceremony was humble and cultured. It looked like Suarez had finally managed to rein in his animal instincts. He flattered to deceive.
Psychologists describe biting as an impulse action, borne out of insecurity. Suarez’s problem is pathological. He bares his fangs only when the chips are down and evidences in this regard are pretty clear-cut. Suarez was struggling to find a way past the Eindhoven defenders when he had attacked Bakkal. Against Chelsea, his team was losing. And during the World Cup fixture against Italy, Chiellini had him bottled up. When things are going his way, Suarez plays like ‘prince charming’, mesmerising us with his football sorcery.
But he can’t handle failures and this is why he was advised to consult a psychiatrist after the Ivanovic incident. Typical to his nature, he ignored it.
Suarez has now been banned for 48 matches since 2010 through retrospective actions and it would be too naive to talk about a mental disorder.
There are some strict do’s and don’ts in sport that everyone has to abide by. Reputation and stardom don’t matter here. Italy’s Mauro Tasotti was banned for eight matches for breaking Spain’s Luis Enrique’s nose during the 1994 World Cup. Diego Maradona was banished from the same tournament for a drug offence. Eric Cantona received a nine-month ban and was ordered 120 hours of community service by FA for his Kung-Fu kick on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons at Selhurst Park in 1995. Zinedine Zidane was sent for community service in Bangladesh for head-butting Italy’s Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final. The Frenchman escaped a bigger punishment because he retired after that game.
Suarez, too, has been punished as per Fifa rules and regulations. A statement from the world football’s governing body categorically said: “The player Luis Suarez is regarded as having breached art. 48 par. 1 lit. d of the Fifa Disciplinary Code (FDC) (assault), and art. 57 of the FDC (an act of unsporting behaviour towards another player).”
The stringent action notwithstanding, there’s, however, no guarantee that Suarez will not do it again when he returns to football four months later. Unless counselled properly, this is likely to remain in his system. For all his goals and assists, Liverpool would be better off without him.
The player himself is not keen on returning to England, for he believes the English press has always tried to sully his image. Barcelona were reportedly mulling on activating his £80-million release clause, but will they be interested now? Suarez faces an uncertain club future as well and he only has himself to blame for his troubles.
Make no mistake, Suarez is a once-in-a-generation footballer and the game would be poorer without him. He should have finished his career as a legend. How sad that he repeatedly preferred a detour on the wild side, letting down all those who loved and liked him.