In the Kop End last night, a flag was unfurled bearing images of the five best managers the supporters deemed Liverpool has had in the last 20 years: Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish, and Rafael Benitez. Luis Suarez then proceeded to give these fine men, and everyone else associated with Liverpool Football Club, the proverbial finger when he bit Branislav Ivanovic in Liverpool’s encounter with Chelsea.
At the end of March, after he returned from a World Cup Qualifier in South America, Suarez was praised by his manager as having “an absolutely amazing appetite for the game.” Well, he certainly has an appetite that’s for sure – whether it’s just for the game is another matter altogether. For how else could you explain his actually attempting to gnaw another man? In the 73rd minute of a game in which he displayed the good, the bad, and the downright ugly elements that rest within him, Suarez chomped on Branislav Ivanovic’s hand as they tussled in the penalty box.What could possibly possess one human to sink teeth into the flesh of another human? Ivanovic looked absolutely stunned as he got up and tried to tell the referee what just happened. Truth be told, Kevin Friend must have thought Ivanovic was joking – who would take seriously someone who tells you a fellow professional just bit him? It was one of those you-had-to-see-it-with-your-own-eyes moments. Even so, Friend had a word with Suarez, who astonishingly, seemed not to know what all the fuss was about – appearing offended that Friend had the gall to tell him off.
The most incredible (and disturbing) thing is that this is not even Suarez’s first time trying to break his opponent down into bite-size chunks. Suarez is known as “The Cannibal” in the Netherlands; in 2010, he was banned for seven matches in the Dutch Eredivisie after he was found guilty of biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal. The duo were exchanging words when Suarez clearly decided too much talking was going on and tried to bite some sense into Bakkal. I’m not sure how one even begins to react to that. Maybe the first thing that goes through your mind is “Rabies!”
One senses, though, that this incident might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Liverpool, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), as well as manager Brendan Rodgers. In the post-match interview Rodgers intimated as much when he said “this is a club with incredible values and ethics..(and)..the history of (Liverpool) is about respect and how people are treated.” More ominously for Suarez, he also mentioned “there is certainly no one bigger than this football club”. Rodgers has hit the nail right on the head. The people who are associated with this great club have all maintained a modicum of respect about them. Say what you want about Shankly, Paisley, Dalglish, Gerrard, Carragher, anybody who has come to be seen as an icon of Liverpool, but it is impossible to deny that these men are all gentlemen. It is indeed hard to make that claim about Luis Suarez because Liverpool’s worldwide reputation, the philosophy upon which this institution exists, revolves around that one word: respect. It is also the one thing Suarez plainly lacks.
This is not the first time the Uruguayan has brought such embarrassment – or to use the English FA’s favored word, disrepute – upon Liverpool. A few weeks ago, this man-child punched Chile’s Gonzalo Jara in the face during a World Cup Qualifier – a clinical right-hook, in the middle of a football game. The incident is currently under investigation by FIFA. A year ago, he was embroiled in that racial abuse scandal with Patrice Evra which saw him banned for eight matches. He never really apologized, and then the petty reaction of refusing to shake Evra’s hand during the pair’s next meeting – petulant, querulous, and purely childish, more than anything else. In that instance, then-manager Kenny Dalglish misguidedly defended Suarez to the hilt, to the detriment of his and Liverpool’s reputation; Rodgers is not making the same mistake this time around. He opted to reserve judgement, but based on the few things he said, it is clear he is prepared to part with his striker if he has to. Of course, once Suarez realized that his manager, and club, were not backing him this time, he took to Twitter to apologize, saying that he was “sad for what happened” before going on to proffer the magic S-word. But the damage was already done – the world had seen the act of ignominy.
It is difficult to defend the notion that after last night, Suarez must be sold. He is a walking time-bomb on the playing field. Clearly the boundaries of regular human conduct do not apply to him, and the longer he stays at Liverpool, the higher the chances of him grossly tarnishing the club’s fine reputation and standing within the game – above and beyond the disesteem he has already brought upon them. To put it very simply, Suarez is degrading Liverpool. It is a sheer lack of respect, in fact, because by putting himself before the club, by indulging his pettiness and short temper, he is disregarding Liverpool’s illustrious history, its glorious heritage and all its heroes, past and present, who have toiled selflessly for the club. Of all weeks, Suarez chose this week, the anniversary of Hillsborough, to pull this stunt; it is an absolute shame that a week that should have been spent on reflection and remembrance is instead going to be spent discussing the stupidity of this rascal. It takes lifetimes, and countless, selfless individuals, to build an institution’s reputation. All it takes is one second, one moment of selfishness, one rogue, to spoil it all – Suarez is doing a good job of that so far.
So far, Liverpool fans and supporters have tolerated – not accepted, for nobody should be able to bring themselves to accept acts like these – his moments of madness because of the occasional moments of footballing brilliance he produces. Yet, for every one moment of magic he produces, he neutralizes it with another moment of rashness and ill-judgement. He’s a talented player, that’s without question, but he’s definitely not so incredibly gifted that he cannot be replaced. Playing for great clubs is not just about how good you are in footballing terms. It is also about how you carry yourself, how you present yourself, and how you conduct yourself – off-the-ball and off the field. Suarez fails on all these counts; he’s not a player that Liverpool should be associated with because he violates all the values that this club is built upon.
After today, even the most ardent Suarez-supporter would be hard-pressed to produce a defence for his actions (how do you even begin to defend someone for biting a fellow pro, a fellow human?). Anybody who tries to plead Suarez’s case is ignoring all that Liverpool stands for, because Suarez tonight, as he has done before, on occasion, put himself before the club – the cardinal sin in any team game. The only opposition or reservation to his sale must stem from an uncertainty and nervousness over whether he can be replaced; selling Suarez will result in a loss of quality, no doubt. But nobody is bigger than the football club: Liverpool is, has always been, and must always remain bigger than any player. Rest assured, quality can be bought – it is merely a commodity. Respect, on the other hand, can only be earned; and once lost, never truly regained.