Luis Suarez’s latest descent into a temporary bout of mania came in the form of a fairly disgusting chomp on the bicep of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, for which the FA have slapped him with a 10 game ban.
The horror of Ivanovic at his pock-marked skin will be familiar to Dutch midfielder Otman Bakkal, who Suarez last took a chunk out of in 2010. He is known as “The Cannibal” in Eredivisie. Like spitting in an opponent’s face, it is not the brutality of the act which so appals, as a leg-breaking challenge might, but the nature of the offence; animalistic, unprovoked, unhinged.
Complimented by his consistent prat-falls and handballs, Liverpool’s head honchos are reflecting on whether his huge talents, exemplified by his nomination for PFA Player of the Year last week, are enough to warrant his place at the club, bearing in mind his alarming penchant for petulance.
So, having a diving, biting, banned star striker is clearly causing a severe headache for Liverpool’s owners. But contrast that with when Suarez was accused, charged and subsequently convicted of racially abusing Patrice Evra last season, which didn’t even seem to provoke a mild twinge. In fact, Liverpool’s players paraded in Suarez t-shirts during a pre-match warm-up, and joined then manager Kenny Dalglish in providing glowing character references.
And why did this happen? Not because Suarez denied using the slur – “negro” towards Evra (although he claims he did not repeatedly use it). He simply denied that it was racist, that in his home country of Uruguay it was not offensive. Dalglish agreed, stating that:
If you get into asking a linguistic expert, which certainly I am not, they will tell you that the part of the country in Uruguay where he [Suarez] comes from, it is perfectly acceptable.
That was good enough for a proportion of Liverpool fans and others, who bemoaned that Suarez was being unfairly persecuted for a simple cultural divergence.
Consider too, the reaction to the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as Sunderland manager. The foamy-mouthed furore ceased as soon as Di Canio offered the simplest denial of any fascist sympathies – “I do not support the ideology of fascism.” How this statement co-existed with multiple public stiff-armed salutes, a tattoo of Mussolini emblazoned across his back and the statement “I’m a fascist, not a racist” is less clear.
Is there anyone denying that Suarez didn’t bite Ivanovic? Is there anyone claiming, in the face in such compelling evidence, that Suarez was simply trying to give him a potato? No, because it would be farcical, but so too was Suarez denying that calling a black man “negro” was a racist act. Perhaps, like with Di Canio, Suarez actually believed what he was saying. Di Canio seemed confused when critics drew comparisons with his uncomplicated, patriotic, peculiarly benign form of fascism with that of the murderous variety espoused by Benito Mussolini. Suarez, quite possibly, felt that the term “negro” was a playful term. But that these two men are too dim-witted to understand their own prejudices are no excuse. Aided by some quasi-philosophising in the press about what fascism in Italy really means, Di Canio too seems to have emerged from his dark period, helped by two handsome wins over Newcastle and Everton. Providing he doesn’t bite anyone.
And the double standards are staggering. Our game is all too often unfortunately blighted by instances of racist idiots disguised as football fans, either paying their money to come and shout filth at men on a field, or causing mayhem outside the ground. When they are caught, they are mercifully banned from football grounds for life. Maybe in some cases they aren’t dyed in the wool racists, simply ignorant. That isn’t an excuse. And neither should it have been for Suarez.
As journalist Matthew Syed said of Suarez’s protestations:
I find this defence breathtakingly implausible from Suarez. He’s lived in Europe for four years — the idea that he didn’t know that this particular terminology would be deeply offensive to someone like Patrice Evra is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion.
So let’s use this opportunity that Suarez’s gnashers have granted us to re-assess what sort of man this is. Certainly one so troubled that he has twice gotten so annoyed on the football pitch so as to go and bite another person. It may well be that racists are more inclined to biting than non-racists, I couldn’t say. But just as a bite is a bite, and should be punished as such, racist abuse is racist abuse and should get the punishment it deserves. And that isn’t missing two fewer games than this latest indiscretion. He should never have even been at Anfield on Sunday.