Football - FA Premier League - Crystal Palace FC v Liverpool FC

IT’S hard to add to the debate on Luis Suarez, if for no other reason than Neil Atkinson boxed it off with a brilliant article the other day.

The only thing I’d add to Neil’s piece is that Liverpool should not sell Suarez. Why should they? If Real Madrid, for example, were to buy him, what would he do for them? Collect the bibs? No, he’d play for them. So why shouldn’t he play for us? Because we should be above all that? Because it’s not morally right to keep him? Ok. But I live in the real world where the point of football is to win. He’s clearly a little bit mental, but why shouldn’t he be our little mental player?

I’ve seen people say it’s time for Liverpool to turn their back on him. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is without argument that Suarez has mental issues. But if these issues were to manifest themselves not in on-field violence, but in drug abuse or alcoholism would the club be encouraged to turn their back on him? Or to get him some help?

Is the ban FIFA have now imposed on him right? Is it fair? There’s no question that Suarez only has himself to blame. He bit a man. For the third time. He deserves little sympathy, and even the most ardent of his supporters would struggle to argue against the idea that a lengthy ban is both right and fair.

But is the notion that he shouldn’t play for Liverpool for four months right? Or fair? When he committed his last indiscretion he wasn’t allowed to play for Liverpool, but was able to appear for Uruguay. Why isn’t the same true in reverse? He’ll likely miss nine games for Uruguay but 13 for the Reds. And FIFA have declared that Liverpool have no right to appeal the ban. Forgive me, but it seems a little bit like they’re just making it up as they go along.

Liverpool are likely to find themselves in a situation where their star player can’t play for them – or even train with them – until November. But if they want to sell him he’s likely to go for half of the market value because he can’t play. It’s lose lose.

It’s also important to put the whole thing in some kind of perspective. According to FIFA, if you break an opponent’s bones (Tassotti, Leonardo) the ban will be somewhere between four to eight games. If the fans of your club are found guilty of racism you’ll be fined £65,000. But if you bite a man – without breaking the skin (despite what The Mirror’s pictures might have you believe) – then you’ll be banned from ALL footballing activity for four months.

The natural response to that is “he’s done it three times”. Fair enough – but it doesn’t wash with me. The implication of that statement is that you can commit three different types of violent activity without serious repercussion, but not the same one. Deliberate elbow, breaking someone’s nose? Three-match ban. Deliberate head-butt, breaking someone’s jaw? Three-match ban. Deliberate two-footed tackle aiming to end someone’s career? Three-match ban. Be as violent as you want, just mix it up a bit.

There’s also an argument that says “all of those things should receive harsh bans”, which is entirely true. Any deliberate violent action should be clamped down upon. If this was the start of FIFA doing just that, I’d be right behind it. But we all know it isn’t. It’s FIFA reacting to press condemnation and public embarrassment. Their statement even says as much:

“Such behaviour cannot be tolerated, especially during the World Cup.”

So it’s bad usually, but it’s especially bad in a World Cup? Not dissimilar to the FA’s laughable idea that Suarez’s punishment for his last indiscretion should be heavier because he trended on Twitter.

Let’s also look at the example of Pepe. Here’s a quote on him from Wikipedia:

“On 21 April 2009, he was…involved in an incident with Getafe CF’s Javier Casquero: with the score at 2–2 and only a few minutes to play, he brought down the midfielder in the penalty area, being subsequently sent off. He then proceeded to kick the fallen opponent twice, once on his shin and once on his lower back. When being pulled away from Casquero, he also pushed his head into the turf and stamped on him several times; in the ensuing mêlée, he also struck another opposing player, Juan Ángel Albín, in the face.”

He was banned for 10 games for all of that. In the Portugal v Germany game in this year’s World Cup he head-butted Thomas Muller. It wasn’t an accident. They weren’t jumping for the ball. He just head-butted him. Where is his extended ban? This is a player with a proven history of violence, who continues to commit violent acts, but who hasn’t been punished in the same way as Suarez.

If FIFA wanted to start to crack down on violent acts then everyone would applaud them. But they don’t. They want to make an example of one person so they can look as if they’re doing something. But without following that up on every violent action it’s just cruel and unusual punishment. As Stuart Gilhooly pointed out on Twitter, “…FIFA have played the man, not the ball…now sets the precedent for physical incidents at all levels to get [a] worldwide ban”.

How many times can people be violent before they get banned from any type of footballing activity? Two? Three? Or is it only if they commit an indiscretion when the world is watching?

Looking past the ban, though, I don’t care about rival fans kicking up a fuss about Suarez. If anything I’d be disappointed if they didn’t. He’s one of the best players in the world and he doesn’t play for them. I’m only surprised they haven’t broken into his locker and sprinkled cocaine all over his shoes. Rival fans and clubs should be doing everything in their power to get Suarez booted out of the Premier League. I have no problem with that.

What I do have a problem with is Liverpool fans being criticised for…well…not being all that arsed. It’s as if every other club has never had a player who has misbehaved. Or, if they have, that they only did it once and, therefore, that Suarez’s repetitive behaviour is truly beyond the pale.

United fans nod along to Paul Scholes’s assertion that Suarez has “embarrassed his club, his country and his family” whilst wearing their ‘King Cantona’ t-shirt and watching DVDs of Roy Keane’s worst tackles. Someone tweeted me to call me a “Suarez apologist who should be ashamed” – their avatar was of Ryan Giggs. So suggesting a bite should be dealt with in the same manner as other violent acts are dealt with is something to be ashamed of, but hero-worshipping someone who (allegedly) slept with their brother’s wife is A OK? Which one’s worse? Which would you prefer to happen to you?

Meanwhile, Evertonians are delighted to be looking down on Liverpool fans, convinced that we’re bang out of order for supporting Suarez. But where was their public outcry when “Big Dunc” came back to Goodison Park? Or is going to prison for assault just standard Bluenose behaviour?

It doesn’t matter that United fans still hero worship Cantona, or that Evertonians chuckle when they reminisce about Ferguson throttling Steffen Freund in the middle of a game against Leicester City. Virtually every club has a “bad boy” whose reputation they turn a blind eye to, if not positively revel in.

It’s the hypocrisy of forgetting you do just that that irks. As if Liverpool fans are somehow to be demonised for not calling on Suarez to be deported.

Where the press is concerned, we can hardly be surprised. It must have been like a dream come true when Suarez gave them a ready-made excuse to splash their pages not with a story about phone-hacking (who’d want to read about that), or about England’s pathetic, limp, Hodgson-inspired (or should that be insipid) display, but with yet another tale of Uruguayan cannibalism.

No Oli Holt, Paddy Barclay et al can only do so much fictional writing about their mate Roy being let down by those terrible England players. Sooner or later they need another tale to tell. The sharks had already been circling on the “Suarez transfer” stories before the man himself chucked some Italian blood into the water. So we shouldn’t be shocked that the tabloids are covered in hyperbolic reactions to something way out of the ordinary.

The BBC are supposed to be above such sensationalism. But they’re not.

Is there somewhere in the BBC’s charter that says it needs to offer impartial information on things apart from the football? Let’s consider opinions expressed by those working for the Corporation. Gary Lineker, for example, told us that Luis Suarez had “taken a chunk out of Chiellini”. What?! Taken a chunk out of him?! Holy hell, the man needs locking up! It’s ok, Danny Mills has got that opinion covered. In fact, Mills thinks he should not only be locked up but have the key thrown away, too. Thank goodness Mills never set a foot wrong on the football pitch, hey?

Over on ITV, Glenn Hoddle seconded Mills’s thoughts that prison was the only answer. Presumably the mild-mannered, sensible thinking Hoddle also reckons Suarez will be disabled in his next life. These are the people who are setting the tone.

How many of the people demanding Suarez be banned for life have even heard the name of Joss Labadie? Have you? In March Labadie was found guilty of biting a Chesterfield player in a League Two game. Where was the moral outrage over that? The front-page coverage? Is it ok because he’s only done it once?

Or is the suggestion that biting’s only bad if someone high profile does it? Who knows what the FA would have done had Labadie been trending on Twitter.

Biting is bad. No one sensible is suggesting otherwise. But it should be treated as other acts of violent conduct are treated – not more harshly simply because it’s batshit mental. Elbowing, head-butting, punching and eye-gouging all happen and they’re all arguably worse than biting. That doesn’t mean that biting shouldn’t be dealt with severely – of course it should. But so should all the other things. And if you’re not going to clamp down on everything why choose this one thing in particular to act harsh over?

Footballers aren’t saints. Some of them do some terrible things. But, as Paul Tomkins said in his blog about it all, whether you hold them in disdain for those things depends entirely on whether he plays for your team. Liverpool fans aren’t excusing Suarez’s behaviour, just asking for it be judged in line with everyone else’s.

So criticise him all you want. He deserves it. But before you head off to grab your rocks to throw at the Liverpool fans who refuse to condemn him, maybe you should pull the blinds over on that glass house you’re living in.

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