The Vilification Of Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez is a player who divides much opinion. For some he is a world class player and the Premier League is a better place with him it. For others he is a despicable man whose actions on the football pitch can never be tolerated.
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Luis Suarez is a player who divides much opinion. For some he is a world class player and the Premier League is a better place with him it. For others he is a despicable man whose actions on the football pitch can never be tolerated.

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“Shocking” was how Liverpool found it. No, not the bite, the punishment that was given to Luis Suarez for biting Ivanovic this past weekend. For a club who have suffered heavily from poor public relations these past 18 months Liverpool should be careful about what they say in this case. In fairness they acted swiftly this time compared to the PR disaster of last season and attempted to put out the fires which quickly burnt Sunday evening. However they could not prevent a media reaction to the most vilified footballer in England. After the news of Luis Suarez's ten game ban I cannot deny that I am in agreement with Liverpool. Ten games?! I find the decision extreme and as this article will discuss, a decision based more on the media’s sensationalism and hatred of Suarez than the actual act itself.

The incident this past weekend involving the biting of Chelsea’s defender Branislav Ivanovic was a blight on what has been an exceptional season for the Uruguayan footballer. His performances have made many believe he is the Premier League’s player of the season however this one incident has brought into light the negative parts of Suarez's persona and has received condemnation from fans, media and even involved the Prime Minister.

Now here is what I think about the incident. Suarez tries to beat the Chelsea defender in the area and loses the ball, becomes frustrated and lashes out, something which is seen often by forwards when defenders pull and drag them to deny them space and time. Yet this lash was not a kick, a punch or a push but a bite! A bite! Unbelievable.

It was clear that Suarez was worked up and frustrated trying to get his team back into the game especially as he himself he had given a penalty away in the game previously. Suarez reacted violently in anger and deserved to be punished. Yet surely this reaction should be seen as petulant, childish and crazy more than something sinister, malicious or dangerous? It was a reaction more akin to a petulant little kid than a grown man.

Do I condone the action? Absolutely not and believe the referee would be justified in sending him off had he witnessed it. Yet it happened so quickly it was near impossible to realise what had happened without video replay. For me a three match ban would have sufficed for the incident. I mean there has been much worse incidents that this this season alone, yet alone in football history.

Personally I am at a loss to understand how this could be viewed as so heinous a crime yet tackles in recent weeks from Callum Mcmanaman and Sergio Aguero which were both more violent and dangerous received no sanctions or bans. Surely there is something wrong here? And what about the headbutt's from Marianoue Fellaini on Ryan Shawcross, which only was deemed worthy of a three game ban? Something is not right there if Suarez gets 10 games?!

Based on the reaction from the press and social media you would think he tried to assault or murder Ivanovic. It has been a complete overreaction to an incident which was petty more than violent. He bit a man on the arm, the sheer lunacy of this act makes it funnier than anything else yet the reaction has been of disgust, outrage and genuine repulsion to what Suarez has done.

A history of violence

Now the argument will be he has a history of these acts. The FA can say he is a recurrent serial offender and he needs to be punished. Perhaps 10 games is a pointer to previous misdemeanour's such as the previous bite and of course the racist comment made to Patrice Evra last season.

Now I believe that Suarez is being punished severely because of his previous acts as much as this one. Yet I don’t believe that is fair. Players who are guilty of multiple ‘leg breaking’ tackles are not given extra game bans because of their ‘history’. They are sanctioned for the amount of time a red card brings.

Surely this bite was worth only three games and surely it is unfair on Suarez to judge him on previous incidents which he has already paid for? I go back to the issue that he is not inflicting damage on a player to the severity that other players have done. It appears he is being made an example of.

If you think I am condoning what Suarez has done I am not in any way. The incident with Evra was hopefully a lesson to him that the culture he grew up and the language and treatment of certain ethnicities is not tolerated or accepted in other countries. Yet is he a racist? Not at all. Perhaps an ignorant man to other countries values.

In the case of the biting I find it strange, almost like he chooses not to fight and instead gets his anger out with a bite. It is not right and deserves a punishment, yet I just cannot fathom the length of this ban. Granted he bit someone when playing for Ajax in 2011, an incident which brought him a seven game ban. Yet when watching the footage of that particular incident it appears much more pre-planned based on the time he has to approach Bakkal. Yet what if he had reached in and headbutted him instead? A red card yes? Yet a seven game ban? Probably not.

What I am saying is why does a bite mean such harsh sanctions yet genuine aggressive behaviour with the intention to seriously harm another player warrant less?

In need of help for his issues

Now many have argued that he needs ‘help’ and that he has some serious mental issues. I don’t agree in the slightest. Do I believe he is passionate and obsessed with winning. Absolutely. In Suarez there is a hunger, desire and drive that few other players appear to possess yet which makes him such an intense and intimidating player.

I can think perhaps of perhaps Tevez and Ribery who show similar characteristics in their work rate and intensity. Would you want to play against them? Probably not. Because you know that they will not stop hunting the ball, haranguing the defence and being a constant threat when in possession. These kind of players possess world class talent and also world class desire. Suarez acknowledged after the Bakkal incident, “In those moments, your heartbeat is very high and sometimes you don’t think about what you are doing..”

Can this desire lead to anger and frustration, without question and these players have all been guilty of those moments of seeing red. Yet it is this which makes them so great is it not? In the heat of the battle, with the intensity and the will to win so strong, surely we can accept that tempers and exchanges happen. And when they do act out punishment is served and the players pay for their actions.

The sensationalism of the media

From the moment the bite happened on Sunday twitter was awash with anger, shock (and many jokes). It became the story of a very entertaining game and although he should have been sent off which would have meant he could not score the equaliser the fact it became near global news was somewhat amazing to me. Front page news, questions to the Prime Minister. I mean seriously? He bit him on the arm for a matter of seconds. How is this global news?

Since then the outpouring of hate and anger towards the man as well his actions seems to highlight a serious problem many have with Suarez more than what he did. People want him sacked, they believe he has embarrassed the club. It is lunacy.

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I cannot help but think that the way Liverpool along with Suarez handled the Evra situation last season has been a reason for many peoples dislike of the man. I am sure many journalists were anticipating something like this, the dive against Stoke earlier in the season brought much derision and I am sure they waiting, hoping for another episode.His other history of episodes is extensive yet I also find the reaction to them ludicrous too. The handball against Mansfield led to this headline “Suarez handball sums up the evils of football!”, amazing. And the media were keen to associate Suarez’s celebration where he kisses his arm as some sort of admission to his handball, knowing full well that this is celebration every time he scores.Players handle the ball to gain advantage in nearly every game and if found guilty are punished for it, just like Suarez was in the game against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup. In fact that incident proved his will to win more than anything. He sacrificed himself for the good of the team to stop a certain goal which ultimately was the reason for Uruguay to advance. Yet it was deemed one of the worst moment of “bad sportsmanship” even though it helped his team progress in a World Cup. His desire to win produces these ‘instinctive’ reactions which are regarded as ‘wrong’ and deceitful in the hypocritical moral world of English football.Perhaps the media benefit from him because his incidents generate sales. Whatever the case it does seem like the case against Suarez is very personal and can be regarded as a campaign to blacken his name more than a genuine reaction to a minor incident.The FA’s response and lengthy ban appears to be in reaction to the media sensationalism more than the actual incident itself.

The English hypocrisy

The severity of this ban appears something more than a sanction for just an action, it appears a personal vilification for Suarez himself and this is not right.

In football the deceit of players for diving, feigning injury and screening and blocking has come under the microscope in recent years. The English media call it a “foreign” issue which has plagued our game. According to these journalists the English player is true and honest in his approach to the game, he does not cheat. He takes tackles like a man and would never act like these “foreign” players who dive, cheat and roll around the floor feigning injury.

Tony Pulis (a Welshman) is a perfect example of the hypocritical English mentality. His sides and players play the game like players of old; battlers, crunching tackles and "honest" defending involving holding, blocking and screening. Stoke's style at times is dangerous and harmful play, yet for him this is "English football". Yet as soon as an opposition player dives against his side he is first to accuse them of "cheating". This hypocrisy goes across English football.

Apparently grabbing hold of shirts and arms is acceptable yet diving is a cowardly act. It makes sense culturally, the hard work and grit of the English game involves the “battle” of war which means crunching tackles are acceptable and "part of the game" yet weak and cowardly acts like diving are seen as immoral. Suarez has been held up as the face of the foreign cheat who is blighting the purity of the English game. In this respect you can see why he has being punished so severely.

A flawed genius

Funnily enough one of the common accusations laid at Suarez is that as been regarded as a ‘flawed genius’. A man who possesses much talent yet is plagued by moments of madness and anger. It is funny to me because he resembles possibly one of the greatest players the game has seen, Zinedine Zidane.

Zidane shares many similaries with Suarez, most notably their their skill and talent and that insatiable appetite to win as well as their moments of madness. Zidane once admitted his "desire never to stop fighting is something else I learnt in the place where I grew up".

Zidane, like Suarez was plagued by incidents in his career, stamps and headbutts most notably. Yet it didn’t stop him winning three World player of the year awards or being regarded as one of the best players of all time and his inability to control his frustrations did not stop Real Madrid paying £42m for him.

The truth was that people accepted his flaws because of his talent. Again would it have been better for the player had he been able to control his emotions and not react violently? In terms of suspensions yes, yet was that desire and intensity part of what made him so great?

The phrase a ‘flawed genius’ is used to explain Zidane yet I believe many great players possess this mindset which at times pushes them to the edge of their control. In the heat of football, with so much at stake and for these top players so much responsibility and expectation on their shoulders, it is very hard to keep emotions in check and remain balanced. In this respect I don’t condone but I understand why these players react in such a way.

There are similarities between Suarez and other players with quite skill and quality. Eric Cantona possessed that violent streak in football, as too did Dennis Bergkamp. In fact I would say all three of these great players were more violent and malicious than Suarez. The Uruguayan acts more like a mischievous kid than a violent animal yet the media reaction to his incidents make him out to be much worse than he really is.

People have tried to compare him to other 'flawed genius' yet you can’t compare him to players like Best, Maradona or Gasgoine because all their ‘demons’ and issues came off the pitch. For them football was a way to get away from their problems and it was off the pitch where their troubles arose. Suarez is by all accounts a very good person off the pitch, a loving father and husband who keeps himself out of trouble.

Some have even put Suarez in the same bracket as Joey Barton or El Hadji Diouf, this is an insult to the player and his talents. Unlike these two actual sinister and despicable footballers Suarez’s actions appear to take place in the ‘heat of the moment’ and are more often impulses and reactions than pre-meditated.

The truth is Suarez’s ‘issue’ is football related. For me it is nothing but an intensity and desire to win. If this is wrong then football has gone mad. Yes his actions at times do go beyond the realms of acceptable as his character means he plays on the edge. Sometimes these things will happen and sanctions should be given. But to ban him for such an extensive period because of this?

For me it appears more about a personal dislike from the governing body and media than for the actual incident itself. I can see why Suarez is disliked by many because of the way he acts on the football pitch, yet whereas some see a sinister cheat I see a player who will do whatever it takes to win. I see a player with such desire and determination that I know I would want him in my team.

This ban may be intended to prove to Suarez that he needs to improve his actions yet it will most likely force him out of English football and away from the hate. I have no doubt that some of Europe’s top teams will take him in a heartbeat. To lose a world class player like Suarez is a shame for English football as well as Liverpool and the media and fans need to consider their reaction to this vilification of Suarez which appears worryingly appears to be a personal campaign against an individual.

Read more from Matt at his excellent blog The Whitehouse Address here and follow him on Twitter here.