AS you can imagine, I’ve been thinking about Luis Suarez quite a lot recently. Different emotions have flooded the mind on different days, ranging from frustration, to anger, to sadness, to relief, back to frustration… More than anything, however, I’ve been thinking about what Suarez’s time at Liverpool and the manner in which he is about to extract himself from the club says about supporters and their relationship with players, a process that has included returning to that clunky and rather comical apology Suarez issued after biting Giorgio Chiellini during Uruguay’s World Cup victory over Italy last month.
In the apology – which was essentially directed from Camp Nou and delivered by a man desperate to play there next season – Suarez offered his sorrow to the “entire football family”. “Family”; it was that particular word which stuck out, an established phrase in football’s lexicon with various offshoot terms also part of the sport’s vocabulary – some managers, for instance, are described as “father figures”, while young players have been heard describing a grizzled team-mate as being like an “older brother”. Even the phrase “childhood dream” (as in – it has always been Robbie Keane’s “childhood dream” to play for Leeds/Tottenham/Liverpool/Celtic/LA Galaxy…) has a homely, family-orientated quality to it.
This use of language, consciously or subconsciously, appears an obvious attempt by those who love football to elevate it beyond simply being about 22 men running around on a large patch of grass and suggest instead that it is a sport of great depth and meaning, one with a unifying and collective force so strong that it is comparable to the bond which exists between mother and child, father and brother, sister and cousin. It is part of the same process which sees some people describe football as a religion, which in increasingly non-believing nations like England is a somewhat contradictory thing to do.
The irony of Suarez using the phrase “family” is that he has shown just how meaningless it is in a football context, and in particular in the context of the relationship between player and club. Because if there is one club Suarez should have viewed as his family, a source of love and loyalty from which he could not contemplate departing from, it is Liverpool. Yet here we are, watching him pack his bags and preparing to move in with The Catalans from No1899.
But who is really in the wrong here; Suarez for leaving a club that has stood firmly behind him during some dark and disturbing moments, or Liverpool for thinking displaying unstinting loyalty was the correct thing to do? When the player was banned for racial abuse and then again for biting an opponent, when he handled the ball and then accused the manager of being a liar and demanded a move to Arsenal, we closed ranks, gave Suarez our full support and spoke about “protecting our own”. We acted, in other words, like he was part of the family. But a family is a group of people brought together by truly deep means and the point is that however much you dislike, even hate, the members of your clan you can never really dump them and they can never really dump you – the ties are for life.
From the moment he arrived from Ajax in January 2011 to this point now, when he is about to leave, Suarez was never part of the family. Like all players he is (for the time being) an employee of the club, nothing more, nothing less. The emotions attached to football make it a particularly unique working environment, a place where the hired help are cheered and serenaded and if they stay long enough and do well enough (and in the case of Kenny Dalglish, give their lives to soothing the pain of others) end up being loved by “the customers” long after they leave. But essentially the rules are the same – the workforce clock in, clock out and could decide to leave at any given point.
And it is a two-way thing because make no mistake, if Suarez was an unproven youngster or an average first-team squad player there is no way the club – officials, staff and fans alike – would have stuck by him in the way they have. In cold, calculated terms, Liverpool backed Suarez because he is absolutely brilliant at football. He has been as much part of the family as the plasma TV in the corner of the front room.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying a club should never support a player through tough times, and in Suarez’s case it can be argued that he needed greater support then Liverpool have shown – clinical psychological treatment, for instance, may have been the best course of action after he sunk his teeth into Branislav Ivanovic’s arm – but during the three-and-a-half years he has been at Anfield it has got too emotional, too fraught, too divisive. Yes, the Patrice Evra affair may have been more complex and less clear-cut than the Football Association’s verdict and subsequent ban claimed it was, but to see the players wear those T-shirts at Wigan and rational grown men talking seriously about a Manchester United-led conspiracy was to observe tribal loyalties spiralling out of control.
The reaction to the Ivanovic bite and Suarez’s shameless attempts to leave the club last summer were then pinned by many on an agenda by the English media, yet in each case a word would not have been printed or broadcast if the man in question kept his teeth hidden and his accusations of broken promises and threats of a transfer request to himself. It should also be remembered that this is the same English media who two months ago named Suarez their footballer of the year. Now that really is a strange way to persecute a player.
Ultimately what we can say now, and should say now, is that Luis Suarez is a fantastic footballer who did great things for Liverpool but alongside the sublime talent he is a troubled and troubling individual, a brilliant bastard who passed through Anfield and is now about to be Barcelona’s mix of joy and controversy. Good luck to all involved, they’re going to need it.
Remember the good times – and boy there were plenty – but use Suarez’s time at Liverpool to affirm a fundamental truth; that the only real “family” in football exists between supporters, and between them and the club they follow from cradle to grave. Players, in contrast, come and go. Enjoy them while you can and don’t be afraid to criticise those who step out of line, those who absorb your adoration like a sponge before turning their back and walking away with barely a glance over their shoulder.
Images: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda
It’s much more eloquent than I could hope to be, but I remarked to another Red friend recently that I dislike what football has become, and I absolutely bloody loathe a lot of the players in our league and elsewhere.
But I love Liverpool. There’s nothing I can do about that.
My feelings too.
I am ready for him to go, I feel his bite was a well thought out plan, he decided shoulder not arm, done before. No loyalty to club or his country. There was never a defence for his actions, BUT, I would try to, anyone who wore the Shirt of Liverpool Football, I would speak up for. But Mr Sùarez go, but you will never be loved like the way we loved you. Walk away, don’t turn around……………………..
“I feel his bite was a well thought out plan”
I’ve thought the same myself. I wonder if this is paranoia or if there is any salience in this.
While the thought did cross my mind at one point, I firmly believe it is wild paranoia. I’m sure he really wants to play for Barcelona but I reckon he would chew his own arm off to be able to play for Uruguay in the World Cup if he had time to think things through. He wouldn’t have deliberately risked that for anything, especially a move that almost certainly would have gone through anyway.
That scrolling banner thing at the bottom of this page is a greater crime than anything Suarez has done. You should be banned from the Internet for 4 months and issue an apology…ugh…!
The article you read was *free* ……So if the lads try and make a few bob…then let them mate.
Indeed. These lads do a terrific job bringing this to us week after week. No probs from me either.
Another intelligent and thoughtful article. It is true that the players are simply employees but we do want them to love us as much as we love them. It is best the Suarez leaves, especially if he wants to go. The brat in me is amused that he wants to go to Barca. I’m sure he will enjoy playing second or third fiddle to the likes of Neymar and Messi, who don’t bite people. I’m sure his new Barca teammates will enjoy having a player with baggage who can’t even practice with the team until November. In the EPL, he’s a superstar. In La Liga, he’s just another really good striker…who bites people. I hope Suarez enjoys those greener pastures.
I just hope the announcement comes soon because Liverpool still has a lot of talent and we need to move on and let bygones be bygones.
Great piece. It’s sadness all around including Suarez who will realise what he is giving up and what a mistake he is making by leaving in due course. A la Owen and Torres but more intensified.
Yes I am also hoping he gets the curse of the Anfield striker, turning to shit at their next club. He can come here on a CL night and hear the roar of the crowd who adored him and think wistfully of the days when he had a 30+ goal season…..
Fantastic article. Come away feeling much better and calm about Suarez leaving.
I’m beginning to think he’s on the spectrum. He seems to be the centre of his universe; difficulty in relating or empathising with others, or reciprocating affection or loyalty shown to him, but highly intelligent and obsessive in his interests.
We’ve been here a few times before (admittedly without the teeth incidents!). So, we sort of get used to it…..a bit.
As supporters we shouldn’t change our love for the club and the hero worship of the players. It’s part of our genetic make up. It’s what we do.
However, at least he goes for a huge fee and Brendan can now set up the team truly the way he wants it.
So, thanks for the great moments and the goals. Can’t wish you well because I would be lying through my teeth if I didn’t say that I hope it’s a poor move.
At the end of the day Suarez is like most of us trying to climb the ladder at work,if you do well you get a better job,I’m sure he has a emotional attachment to a club in Uruguay,those sort of ties are formed at a young age,rarely as a adult,if it was just about money he can earn decent money at Liverpool,but it’s probably more about playing with the best players in the world and challenging for Champions League and League Titles,good luck to him,look at the likes of Jay Spearing,he loved the club & was desperate to play for us but we binned him of because he wasn’t good enough,I don’t remember the fans kicking off about him going.we only demand loyalty off the best players,the rest off them can fuck off.
Spot on Didgy
I don’t think it’s as black and white as you make out.
Plenty players come to Liverpool (and other clubs for that matter) and feel so “at home” that they don’t want to leave and eventually become supporters after their playing days are over. We have many examples. Luis is obviously not one of these. So, we have to wave goodbye. Most Reds are taking it well.
As far as someone like Jay Spearing goes. He wasn’t good enough to nail down a place at the club but that doesn’t mean Reds fans weren’t sad to see him go. I know I was. I wanted him to make it.
However, at the end of the day, they are just players and it’s the club that matters. FWIW I think medium/long term we are better without Luis.
When he administered ‘the bite’ , I turned to my son and said ‘He wants out of Anfield. That’s the sort of thing he does.’ When Liverpool played in Australia he came on late in the match and them promptly attempted the most ludicrously obvious handball. It’s what he does to signal his intentions. He is like a spoilt child throwing his toys.
My son scoffed, but yesterday he said he now agreed.
Suarez is a wonderful player, the most exciting player I have ever seen, certainly in a Liverpool shirt. And I go back to the days of Liddellpool. But he – Luis- is a sociopath. That is not unique to him, of course, but his bizarre acts are. I loved his time here, but want him gone.
Family always love you but always tell you when you’ve done something wrong and what you need to do to put it right. Liverpool never did this. They fed his ego and almost allowed him to do this again. I think his new contract was written to encourage him to go after the World Cup. Great player, joyous, brilliant but also a detestable little snide. Irreplaceable in many ways so I expect a change in our style of play. It’s never boring being a Liverpool fan.
Really enjoyable perspective on the subject at hand and the wider context. My first thought when I heard he’d included the “football family” in his apology was he was playing to the gallery at FIFA for sepp and his pals…
Like most people, I think we are just experiencing the inevitable. And in terms of timing, with a cold calculating head on, now is probably the right time in terms of his worth vs his age when you factor in all his controversy. Its going to be all about how we can ‘hopefully’ use that money wisely to push on from here.
But with my emotional head on, I’m gutted. Easily, the best and most skillful player I’ve ever witnessed in the flesh, and I’ve seen a few good ones since I started going the match in 76. He did things over the last couple of years that we’ll never see the like of again. I just feel privileged to have witnessed it at the ground on a regular occasion. Its not just the goals, its the things he tries, the things he sees, that no-one else can see….
Like you Sachin, I’ve been confused over the last couple of weeks -the calculating / logical brain vs the emotional. And so it will be until we find the next person to quicken the pulse – like you said, that is the way it is for players, they come and go – but the club and fans are constant!
I don’ think the biting was anything to do with getting away from anfield. He would have to be completely mad to think that this was a strategy that would be appropriate. The fact is the lad simply cannot help himself.
I used to play football with a guy who was absolutely mad about football, organised games every week, cajoled players to turn up, was totally into the game. But he was utterly crap at it, absolutely terrible. The reason I bring him up was that when the ball would come into the box from a corner, and he was attacking it, he would sometimes raise both hands and bat the ball down. He knew he wanted to head it, he loved playing the game, he just couldn’t stop himself from doing it. Now obviously Suarez isn’t biting opponents every game, but surely if you have done it as often as he has, as publicly as he has, in a match with a worldwide audience in the hundreds of millions, you might think he would be saying to himself…..better not bite anybody in this match Luis old chap. On the spectrum above was a good shout. I still think a bitemark is better than a broken back, but he has to know how it will be received in the media, considering how it has been punished before, so yes, def on the spectrum, very high functioning but there nonetheless.
As for his leaving, like Torres I will be sad to see it, but like Torres he’s easing the blow with a wad of cash coming the other way. Forget Sanchez, how about Xavi and Dzeko though?
spare us the self pity and hypocrisy … the club sold its soul for Suarez so desperate was/is it for success on the field … nothing to do with loyalty or love. It overplayed its previous star player, Fernando Torres, mismanaged his injuries and lied to him (while other ‘senior players’ went about the business of undermining the Spanish manager who had persuaded him to come to LFC in the first place). In his own words Torres ‘thought it was home’ but it turned out to be no such thing, and the ruthlessness with which the club, its owners, ‘legends’ and tame journalists have pursued him has been unseemly, both in its relentlessness and the extraordinary level of petty viciousness and sanctimonious moralising on display. In spite of his crazy behaviour on the pitch Suarez clearly has a greater sense of self-preservation than Torres … no doubt he’s aware of how his predecessor was treated once he became damaged goods and has got out while he’s still uninjured and at the top of his form.