Monday evening’s match at Anfield between Liverpool and Tottenham was a low-key affair. However, it did feature one standout moment: the return of Luis Suarez from his lengthy suspension for racially insulting Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. Entering the fray with 25 minutes to go, Suarez did not conjure the winning goal, but flashes of inspiration reminded everyone of his importance to a Liverpool side who have now drawn eight times at home in the league.
The relatively low key nature of Suarez’s return was the perfect opportunity for all involved to put the troublesome last few months in the past, and simply appreciate that he was back playing again. Liverpool’s manager Kenny Dalglish echoed the thoughts of the Anfield faithful saying, “It’s fantastic to have him back” — a truism which it would be very hard to refute. Most unfortunately he followed this up by saying “He should never have been away in the first place.” Immediately it becomes patently clear that Kenny Dalglish is not about to let this one go away. This latter assertion, that Suarez was innocent of any wrong-doing is one which it is quite easy to refute.
It is important to remember the thoroughness with which the FA’s independent commission investigated the Suarez-Evra case. A 115-page document was produced which eventually found Suarez guilty of racial insults towards Evra. This diligence reflects the FA’s admirable opinion of a case of the utmost importance, and also suggests no stone was left unturned in reaching the verdict. It therefore seems sensible to assume that the investigation’s findings were correct.
Managers’ backing of their own players is nothing new. Much like a parent’s blindness to their child’s wrong-doing, most managers will back their players to the hilt no matter what the evidence suggests. However, it is rare that the consequences of such actions carry significance months after the offence. Dalglish’s comments not only hold significance so long after the offence, but his insistence of Suarez’s innocence seems unnecessary and, most importantly, irresponsible.
Despite this, Kenny Dalglish is still unable to accept the guilt of his player. Further to this, he is also seemingly unable to simply let the whole thing go. Since the day of the initial incident, now 115 days ago, through to Suarez’s return on Monday evening, there has been no acknowledgement of guilt, or any hint of an apology from either player or manager. Last night’s comments brought the whole thing to the fore again, and it could not have been timed worse with Saturday’s upcoming game between Liverpool and Manchester United. Kenny Dalglish has now reminded every Liverpool player and fan travelling to Old Trafford on Saturday that the club line on the Suarez case is that he is innocent. It would be a great surprise if they did not make this point very clear on Saturday. At the same time he also brands Patrice Evra a liar for accusing Suarez. It seems impossible that this will not be taken badly by Manchester United’s equally tribal fans.
It would surely have been easier, and substantially more diplomatic, for Kenny Dalglish not to have said anything on the matter. It was not necessary for anyone to say anything more, as it has all already been said. Suarez has served his ban, and it is good for the whole league, not just Liverpool, to have him back. He will be a huge boost to Liverpool on Saturday and for the rest of the season. He is a remarkably watchable player who made a mistake and has been punished.
Old Trafford on Saturday was always going to have a hostile atmosphere, the history between the clubs makes that inevitable every time they play. However, the scores should be settled on the pitch, with the ball. Dalglish’s loyalty, sometimes an admirable quality, in this case is irresponsible. A man in his position should understand when not to fuel the fire. It must be hoped that all the talk after Saturday’s game will be about football. After all, that’s what everyone’s there for.