I don’t care which side you happen to support. If you’re a Liverpool or Manchester United supporter, or just a neutral viewer, this is a dire day in the Barclay’s Premier League. It’s the day we saw petulance win out over professionalism, pettiness over peace.
Today the Manchester United-Liverpool derby became less about the history of the rivalry but rather more about the real or perceived struggles of two players to overcome hardships caused by the other. On one hand, you have Patrice Evra. On the other, you have Luis Suarez, a man who intentionally handled a ball away from goal at World Cup 2010, and racially abused a player.
What Suarez admitted he said was vastly inappropriate. If Suarez was a person with any sense of understanding, upon hearing he may have offended another human, he would have apologized for his words and explained his lack of intentions to harm Evra. Instead Suarez and his club went after Evra, accusing the player and United of lying to get Suarez banned.
Fast forwarding to today, if either manager was going to diffuse the potential for fireworks, it was going to be Kenny Dalglish. Evra has been the team’s captain recently, and in such a big match you would expect him to start. Liverpool had a pretty solid attack in recent weeks without Suarez, including the 2-1 FA Cup victory at Anfield against the Red Devils. King Kenny could have gone with Andy Carroll at the front. Instead, he decided to start the lightning rod, and the Uruguayan’s reputation plummeted from despised to utterly detested in one single move.
When it was Suarez’ turn to grasp the hand of the Frenchman Evra, he moved right along to David De Gea. Evra reacted by grabbing the striker’s forearm, as if to say, “You really are an idiot, aren’t you?” That led Rio Ferdinand to deny his own hand to the Uruguayan; Ferdinand himself watching his own brother go through a similar situation to his teammate.
The match itself was almost a sideshow. United rode two second-half goals from Wayne Rooney, while Suarez found the net in the late moments of the game to complete the 2-1 scoresheet.
However, the entire match was marred by that handshake. The announcers couldn’t stop talking about the tension. The crowd was endeavored to boo Suarez, just as the Kop had booed Evra a couple of weeks earlier. A few of the players scrapped in the tunnel at halftime, and after the victory Evra shamelessly made the celebration about his personal struggle (even doing so directly in front of Suarez).
We can’t go without mentioning Kenny Dalglish. If Dalglish had any inkling that Suarez would refuse to shake Evra’s hand, he should have sat him. This should have been non-negotiable. With everything that’s happened, the two players and clubs needed to move on. We’re talking about professionals here. A professional would have grabbed Evra’s hand and said, “I made a mistake, let’s move on and make this storied match a good one.” Instead he extended this beyond the realm of an isolated event, and now lends to question what he really does believe.
As far as Evra’s display after the match, I do think he should have stood the better man and shown more decorum. I don’t blame him though. Evra appeared to have every intention of shaking hands and making peace, only to be rebuffed by Suarez.
Finally, regardless of the position of Suarez and Dalglish, Liverpool Football Club is American owned. Sympathizing with a situation where someone appears racist doesn’t fly well in the United States. Luis Suarez has now compounded the headaches for his club by refusing to be a sportsman towards Patrice Evra in this match.
Maybe this will all blow over, maybe not. I think we can all agree that this misunderstanding has been handled as poorly as anyone could envisage. Maybe John Terry needs to evaluate the way this went down, and find a way to make peace with Anton Ferdinand. I think we all can learn something from this train wreck. Show some class — unlike Suarez.