Luis Suarez is, without question, one of the best strikers on the planet. His nose for the goal is amongst the worlds best, and while Suarez might not be in the elite of the elite, his appearance on a given side usually results in that team winning.
But Luis Suarez has also been a menace, cheatingand exhibiting racism on the pitch, willing to do anything, it seems, to help his team win.
During his days for the youth team at Nacional, he was red carded for headbutting a referee. At Gronigen, he went on a stretch of scoring four goals in five matches while picking up three yellow cards and a red card. At Ajax, he was suspended twice in his second season: once for picking up too many yellow cards, and again for a halftime altercation with a teammate over a free kick, prompting manager Marco Van Basten to say, “Suarez is extremely important to us and is involved in almost all the goals that we score, but he harms us too with all those yellow cards. Luis is unpredictable, he's hard to influence but that makes him special.” It is unlikely Van Basten would use the word “special” if he were reflecting upon incidents that happened since.
The following summer, Suarez infamously saved a ball with his hands against Ghana in the World Cup and was immediately sent off. The following penalty was missed, Uruguay went on to win the match and Suarez cemented his hero/anti-hero status.
He didn't stop there.
In his final season for Ajax, Suarez was banned for seven games for biting Otman Bakkal, earning the nickname “The Cannibal of Ajax.” In his first full-season for Liverpool, coming off a summer in which be earned Player of the Tournament in the Copa America for Uruguay, he was suspended for eight games after racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. He made matters worse, as usual, by refusing to shake Evra's hand when they next met.
That became the first time Liverpool was forced to throw their support behind the enigmatic striker. His defense, that calling Evra some variation of “negro” on the pitch was common and not offensive in Uruguay, rang hollow. If that were true, prior incidents of this would have occurred to someone – probably initiated by Suarez, mind you – or perhaps his black teammates would have stood up in public for him (though it would be hard to imagine Glen Johnson coming out and saying, “It's no big deal, Luis calls me a negro all the time, what a lad!”). The FA did, however, note that Suarez was not in fact a racist. It seems he was simply trying to take Evra out of his proper mental state.
Sports are filled with athletes attempting to gain an edge. Kevin Garnett talking about Carmelo Anthony's wife is a perfect example. It was below the belt, but Melo then went into iso-mode and the behemoth Knicks succumbed to the struggling Celtics. Was that KG's intent? Was it even related? Who knows, but I bet KG wishes he saved that trick for the playoffs.
Does that make it right? Probably not. But comparing KG to Suarez is massively unfair to KG because KG probably knows where the belt line is and can reign it in. Suarez has no idea, or, perhaps, an even better idea, because he keeps punching the same spot over and over again.
At what point does it become too much? How many times does Liverpool have to throw their support behind him before they cast him aside? In the world of sports and money, the answer, sadly, is probably never, as exemplified by Suarez's latest need for support from his club last week against lowly Mansfield Town in the FA Cup.
Mighty Liverpool, the 18-time Premier League Champions, travelled to Mansfield to play in front of 7,500-odd fans against a team four divisions below them. Some of these guys have day jobs. As Liverpool struggled to put away the minnows from Nottinghamshire, Suarez came on, immediately handled the ball to himself and scored. Whether the referees were paid or blind is anyone’s guess, but the move was blatant. Suarez barely celebrated the goal, knowing full well he robbed tiny Mansfield of a chance to play at Anfield – one of the most famous stadiums in the world with some of the loudest, most passionate fans on the planet (there are very few things as hair-raising as the Kop singing “You'll Never Walk Alone” before a big match) – made all the more worse when Mansfield actually managed to score a goal that would have equalized the game, had Suarez not cheated. Again.
The club has since offered Suarez their “full support”…once again. Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre said, “These things seem to follow Luis around and it's unfortunate, but he has our full support.”
Yes, they do seem to follow him around, but the only unfortunate aspect is that no one has heeded Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson's response following Suarez's handshake-duck.
“Luis Suarez is a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club. He should never play for them again.”
(Ed Note: The following perspective comes from Liverpool fan Dusty Christensen, founder of the Baxter Street Elite, currently residing in Ukraine.)
The racist thing I won't even mention. There's no defending that. The biting, too. However, all of the other stuff needs to be looked at in the broader context of modern-day football. Diving, taking whatever goal you can get, reckless play… that's not "cheating" in the Premier League, that's playing to win, which is the ONLY thing sacred in a league so obsessed with money. Every player in the league would take those "cheap" goals that Suarez has scored without thinking twice. Most players in the world would have blocked that goal with their hand like he did against Ghana. In fact, as a Liverpool fan I remember when Phil Neville did the same thing in the Mersyside Derby a few years back. That all has been popular since Maradona's "hand of God," and maybe longer. Finally, ALL of the best players in the world (with the exception of Messi) dive, and not just sometimes. These are all things that need to be addressed in the modern game. They say far more about the state of football today than they do about Suarez. Yes, he might be a racist. Yes, he is controversial. However, it's that same fire that makes him such a good player. If you're going to take shots at Suarez, go ahead. He probably deserves it. Just don't be naive thinking that it's only Suarez getting away with these things. A broader discourse about the state of football in general is needed.