The future of Luis Suarez at Liverpool has been affirmed, despite his astonishing behaviour during Liverpool’s 2-2 draw against Chelsea on Sunday, when he was filmed biting the arm of opponent Branislav Ivanovic. Liverpool’s Managing Director Ian Ayre says “It affects his future in the sense that we have to work with him on his discipline, but Luis is a very important player to the club”.
The 26-year-old Uruguay striker, who added insult to injury by scoring the equaliser in the seventh extra minute of added time, has apologised for his violent conduct, saying on Twitter “I’m sad for what happened this afternoon, I apologise Ivanovic and all football world for my inexcusable behaviour. I’m so sorry about it!!”, and it is understood that a club fine of two weeks wages has been imposed but these measures are unlikely to placate the FA which is expected to impose a lengthy ban on Suarez. A 3-member, independent regulatory commission will hear the case tomorrow. The chairman, a former footballer and an FA Council member may take into account previous misconduct including the 2012 eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra and the seven-match ban Suarez incurred during his time at Ajax in the Netherlands when he bit PSV Eindhoven midfielder Otman Bakkal.
In addition to the financial penalty of a fine, controversially donated to the Hillsborough Family Support Group (causing Sheila Coleman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign to say it is “disgraceful for Ian Ayre and Liverpool to use Hillsborough in this way”), and the blow to his reputation and diminution of brand value to sponsors such as Adidas, Suarez is likely to suffer an FA ban beyond the statutory three games on the basis that “the standard punishment is clearly insufficient in the circumstances”. Bookmaker William Hill has slashed its odds from 13-8 to 1-2 that Suarez will suffer an FA suspension of at least seven matches. If a lengthy ban is indeed imposed, this would satisfy his extensive array of critics. Prime Minister David Cameron has indicated that he would like stern action with his official spokesman saying of the FA “…I think it would be very understandable if they took into account the fact that high profile players are often role models”.
Liverpool has affirmed its intention to support Suarez, with Managing Director Ian Ayre saying “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. He’s a fantastic player, top scorer and everything we’d want in a striker, so there’s no change there. This is more about getting him back on the right track and it’s largely down to (manager) Brendan (Rodgers) now to work with him on that side of his character.” However, there is no doubt that Suarez’s bite, combined with his display of gamesmanship condemned by furious Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech after the game, inflict reputational damage on the club. Bet365 have reduced the odds of a Suarez departure from Anfield by the end of the summer transfer season, from 2-1 to 13-8 but William Hill offers odds of 1-3 that he will continue to play for the Red in the longer term.
Former Liverpool manager Graeme Souness is one of many concerned for the club’s global reputation, commenting to Sky Sports that the striker had “crossed a line”, adding “I’m not sure what to make of it. Embarrassing. He’s making it very difficult for himself to stay at Liverpool, that puts him in the last chance saloon. Most important is safeguarding the good name of the football club. Liverpool are world renowned. People will be talking about this for a long, long time, and it will show Liverpool in a very bad light”.
Despite the furore, Suarez remains in the running for the Player of the Year award. The award is regarded by players as extremely prestigious with Chelsea defender John Terry, no stranger to controversy himself, saying in 2005 that it is “the ultimate accolade to be voted for by your fellow professionals whom you play against week-in and week-out”. Suarez’s continued inclusion in the shortlist may reflect the fact that “To err is human, to forgive divine”, and many fellow players understand that in the course of a football match tempers flare and foul deeds take place.
Former Uruguay player, Gustavo Poyet, currently Brighton manager, recognises that his fellow countryman has made a mistake and acknowledges that Suarez has provided the media and his critics with more than a nibble of news, saying “If we all behaved the way we are expected to behave in football by the media, then it would be really boring. All perfect, very nice, all politically correct and living in a bubble. I don’t kid myself, I know how it is. Somebody needs to be in the news and somebody needs to make mistakes”. This week, and for perhaps many months ahead, that somebody is Luis Suarez.