Soccer has always had heroes and villains. It is all part of the show, particularly in the commercialized world of today. Often a player can be viewed as a hero by one person and a villain by another, depending on which team they support. But there are certain times when club rivalries are put to one side. Times when supporters can do nothing but admire one of their opponents. And times when a player acts so disgracefully that even his own team’s fans struggle to support him.
After Team GB’s recent 1-0 victory over Uruguay at the Olympics, Luis Suarez claimed he was angry at the supporters who booed during his country’s national anthem. The booing, however, only occurred when the Liverpool forward’s face appeared on the big screen. Suarez was quoted as saying that he believed the reception he received was down to the crowd’s “fear” of him. ‘Pure hatred’ may have been more accurate.
When people mention Luis Suarez, the first incident that comes to mind is the messy racism affair involving Patrice Evra. But this certainly wasn’t the first time the Uruguayan had caused controversy.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa saw Ghana become only the third African team in history to qualify for the quarter-finals of the competition, gaining admiration from neutrals across the globe as they did so. They would now face a Uruguay team including Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani and, of course, Luis Suarez. After former Man United striker Forlan had equalised for La Celeste in the second half, the Black Stars went inches away from winning the game in extra time. What prevented Dominic Adiyiah’s header going into the net, however, was Luis Suarez, who handled the ball on the line and was subsequently sent off. Had Asamoah Gyan gone on to convert the last-minute penalty, winning the match and making Ghana the first ever African team to reach the World Cup semi-finals, the incident may have been forgotten. But the country’s hopes and dreams were crushed as they watched the striker miss the opportunity, his spot kick striking the crossbar and Ghana ultimately being knocked out in a penalty shootout.
The actual handball was not the most despicable part of the act. After all, it is important to remember what was at stake here. And, despite it being totally immoral, who could honestly say they would not have instinctively done the same to help keep their team in the game? Where Suarez completely abandoned his morals, however, was when he went on to run around in celebration as Ghana missed the penalty, in the knowledge that his dishonest play had cost the African side the game. After the match, the Uruguayan would lose whatever respect people had left for him, as he arrogantly proclaimed: “I made the save of the tournament. The ‘Hand of God’ now belongs to me.”
Later that year, the then-Ajax forward went on to show his animalistic nature by biting an opponent in a game against PSV. Midfielder Otman Bakkal was the victim of Suarez’s unorthodox attack, as the Uruguayan gracelessly planted his teeth into the Dutchman’s shoulder. Perhaps Suarez could be forgiven for his actions at the World Cup, as he continued to provide little evidence that he was capable of behaving like a decent human being.
But the aspect of Suarez’s game that infuriates people most is the cheating that he gets away with. Fans may have indescribable bitterness towards players who score against their team, but usually this is only temporary and all is forgotten by the time they come up against their next opponents. They realize that the players are essentially just doing their jobs and that, as much as it may upset them, there is no ill feeling towards them as fans. But when a player tries to bend the rules to gain an advantage, it creates a sense of injustice. This makes it personal to the fans, who are not likely to forget about the player’s actions any time soon.
An example of this is the view of Suarez by Everton fans. From the moment he signed for the Toffees’ bitter rivals Liverpool, the Uruguayan forward probably had little chance of being seen as anything other than a villain. But just to confirm this, in his first derby match Suarez would commit the heinous crime of having a fellow player undeservedly sent off, rolling around on the floor after being fairly challenged for the ball by Jack Rodwell. The Everton midfielder was immediately given his marching orders by referee Martin Atkinson, with the decision clearly encouraged by Suarez’s play-acting. Whilst the club’s successful appeal against the dismissal proved Rodwell’s innocence, it could do little to change anything about the 2-0 defeat that left a bitter taste in the mouths of Evertonians.
His compatriots and Liverpool fans stand by him. It would be wrong to expect any different of them. After all, whenever somebody pulls on your team’s shirt you should give them nothing but support. But are there really people who can happily accept cheating from their own players?
High-profile cases of diving in recent years have involved players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba and Ashley Young, all world class players with a tremendous amount of skill. Luis Suarez is no different, and the biggest shame of the situation is that these professionals have talent others can only dream of, yet they resort to such trickery and deception in every game.
Luis Suarez may not appreciate the jeers from supporters, but if that is how he chooses to play the game then he must accept the criticism that comes his way. Because it is thoroughly deserved.