Over the past two years, we’ve written more words about Luis Suárez than we ever imagined possible.
From suspensions to transfer rumors to key goals at the most opportune time, we thought we had seen it all and there was nothing left that could surprise us.
So you’ll understand our shock while watching Uruguay’s game on Monday when Suárez and Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini clashed in front of the Italian goal with just a few minutes left in the game. Suddenly, Suárez was on the ground holding his mouth, while Chiellini was chasing the ref, pulling at his shirt collar to show something on his shoulder, and we were left in disbelief.
Did Suárez really do what we think he just did? Did Suárez really just bite Chiellini during a win-or-go-home World Cup game?
On Thursday, FIFA came down on Suárez, banning him for four months from all soccer activities. Not only is he out of any remaining World Cup games for Uruguay (and nine international matches all together), the ban extends to Liverpool, meaning Suárez will miss nine Premier League games (including ones against Manchester City, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur) and the first three UEFA Champions League games.
“Such behaviour cannot be tolerated on any football pitch, and in particular not at a World Cup when the eyes of millions of people are on the stars on the field,” said Claudio Sulser, the chair of FIFA’s disciplinary committee. “The committee took into account all the factors of the case and the degree of Mr. Suárez’s guilt in accordance with the relevant provisions of the code. The decision comes into force as soon it is communicated.”
We spent the past Premier League season coming to terms with Suárez and his role with Liverpool. As he rang up goal after goal – a league-leading 31 in 33 games on the season – we talked ourselves into the possibility that Suárez had finally changed. After returning from his suspension he was on his best behavior for the most part, helping Liverpool challenge for the league title and cutting down on the diving and whining.
But during the season’s final games as Liverpool’s title hopes faded away, you could see the frustration creeping back into Suárez’ game, as the angst over non-calls and the falling down every time he was touched, made a return appearance to his game. It was somewhat understandable but, in hindsight, it was also a sign that the on-field demons were slowly creeping back into Suárez’ game.
In the days leading up to the start of the World Cup, Suárez was profiled by Grant Wahl in Sports Illustrated. Early in the article, Suárez is quoted as saying that “I want to change the bad boy image that has stuck for a bit because I don’t think I am at all how I have been portrayed. I would like that to change because it’s awful to hear and read what is said of you.”
We want to believe that Suárez was sincere in his desire to change his image, but if that is the case how do you explain what happened during the Italy game? Maybe the answer lies in a comment from Liverpool owner John Henry in that same Sports Illustrated article.
“He is a good person 99 percent of the time, and 1 percent of the time his desire to win overcomes everything else,” Henry said. “So he had moments where he made very high-profile mistakes. But those mistakes were always in the heat of competition. [They have] caused him problems, but [they’re] also a reason he is one of the best players we’ve ever seen.”
There is no doubt that Suárez is currently one of the game’s best goal scorers, but how much longer can Liverpool put up with him? They did everything they could this past season to support him and, while it was enough to get him through the season, it wasn’t enough to make a permanent change. How can they trust that the “1 percent” won’t come out at the most inopportune time?
Suárez hasn’t been helped by the fact that the Uruguayan Football Association is blaming everyone but Suárez for the incident, claiming everything from Photoshopped images to a conspiracy by a cabal of English, Italian and Brazilian media.
“We don’t have any doubts that this has happened because it’s Suárez involved and secondly because Italy have been eliminated,” association member Alejandro Balbi said. “There’s a lot of pressure from England and Italy. We’re convinced that it was an absolutely casual play, because if Chiellini can show a scratch on one shoulder, Suárez can show a bruised and an almost closed eye.”
Everyone else’s fault but Suárez, of course.
Liverpool officials also have to factor in that they are shouldering a large part of the punishment handed out to Suárez, even though they played no role in the latest incident. Suárez was going to be a transfer target this summer, with the annual move to Spain already hitting the media; could this be the tipping point where the club decides that Suárez is no longer worth the trouble?
For now, team officials are being quiet, only saying in a statement that “Liverpool Football Club will wait until we have seen and had time to review the FIFA Disciplinary Committee report before making any further comment.”
While it is probably a prudent course of action, that statement doesn’t necessarily scream out “we stand behind our player.”
Suárez has an uncanny ability to surprise us when he is on the pitch.
We just wish those surprises were limited to his goal scoring, rather than everything else.