Updated: Apr. 24, 2013 at 11:o0 a.m. EST
This Sunday, in England, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez might win the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Player of the Year award. And the statistics make a compelling case: in 45 appearances this season, the 26-year-old Uruguayan has scored 30 goals and contributed 11 assists. But yesterday, Suarez showed the world the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
The good: In the second half of Liverpool’s home game against Chelsea, Suarez set up one goal and headed in an injury-time equalizer in a pulsating 2-2 tie. The bad: his handball resulted in a penalty kick for the London side, which they duly converted (Suarez was also booked for his transgression). The ugly: 10 minutes after conceding the penalty, the Uruguayan, for reasons only he can explain, inexplicably, and seemingly unprovoked, sunk his teeth into Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. The stunned Serbian rolled up his sleeve to show the mark to referee Kevin Friend, but the official declined to take any further action (to add insult to Chelsea’s injury, Suarez was able to have the last word in the match, by remaining on the field to score the late goal).
But because Friend was no foe, as far as Suarez was concerned, the Football Association (FA) can now step in, and may well dish out a lengthy ban to the player (On Wednesday, they did just that, handing out a 10-match ban for violent conduct.) Perhaps sensing that damage limitation would be the best course of action in the immediate aftermath, both Suarez and his employers were contrite. “I apologize to my manager and everyone at Liverpool for letting them down,” said the player in a statement Sunday, before tweeting that “I’ve spoken to Ivanovic on the phone and I could apologize directly to him. Thanks for accepting.” On Monday, Suarez acknowledged on Twitter that “[f]or my unacceptable behaviour the club has fined me. I have asked the club to donate the money to the Hillsborough Family Support Group for the inconvenience I have created to the Liverpool fans and to Ivanovic.” The PFA has offered Suarez anger management therapy while Ivanovic confirmed to the police that he doesn’t wish to make a complaint.
Suarez’s club manager, Brendan Rodgers, said that “having reviewed the video footage and spoken to Luis, his behavior is unacceptable and I have made him aware of this.” Managing director, Ian Ayre, who cancelled a business trip to Australia to deal with the fallout, noted that Suarez’s behavior didn’t “befit” a Liverpool player. “Luis is aware that he has let himself and everyone associated with the club down. We will deal with the matter internally and await any action from the Football Association,” said Ayre.
Does this mean that Liverpool would seek to sell the player if Suarez does (or even doesn’t) receive a lengthy ban? Rodgers had explained on Sunday that “this is a club with incredible values and ethics. There’s certainly no-one bigger than this club, a player or manager.” And, as former Liverpool player Mark Lawrenson pointed out, “He’s a world-class player, but he gives you world-class trouble.” But on Monday, Ayre explained that it wouldn’t affect Suarez’s future at Liverpool. “Not at all,” he said. “It affects his future in the sense that we have to work with him on his discipline. As we keep saying, he signed a new four-year contract last summer and we’d all love to see him here throughout that contract.”
But trouble does seem to follow him around. During his time at Liverpool, Suarez has racially abused Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, was given a one-match ban for making an obscene gesture to opposition fans, has been accused of diving to win a penalty kick against Stoke City, and used his hand in the build-up to a goal in the FA Cup against lowly Mansfield Town (he also used his hand at the opposite end of the field to deny Ghana what would have surely been a winning goal in the 2010 World Cup quarter-final; though sent off, he saw Ghana miss the subsequent penalty before Uruguay went on to win the match on penalties). Perhaps more pertinently, while playing for the Dutch club Ajax in 2010, Suarez received a seven-match ban for biting PSV Eindhoven midfielder Otman Bakkal’s shoulder.
Suarez’s timing on Sunday was unfortunate to say the least. Liverpool’s fans had paid their respects to Anne Williams, mother of one of the Hillsborough victims, as she passed away last week (Williams constantly campaigned for justice for the 96 victims of the 1989 tragedy). And the supporters also showed solidarity with the city of Boston, after the events of the past week stemming from the bombs at the marathon (Liverpool’s principal owner, John W Henry and chairman Tom Werner, the founders of the Fenway Sports Group, own the Boston Red Sox).
The incident brings to mind the actions of boxer Mike Tyson, who infamously bit Evander Hollyfield’s ear twice in 1997, and had his fighting licence suspended. And soon after the incident Sunday, according to Tyson’s page on Twitter, he made Suarez his 432nd and most recent follow.
Suarez has hardly done his image, nor that of Liverpool football club, and soccer in general, any favors with his latest moment of madness.