Monday, 22 April 2013

The Reds' Devil

The game between Liverpool and Chelsea will be remembered as a Luis Suarez greatest hits performance. It had everything that people will remember about him when he has retired - a handball, a bite, and some sumptuous football.

Moreover, in a game of talking points, when any number of stories could have dominated - the return of Benitez to Anfield, the extraordinary second half performance from Sturridge against his old team, the minute's applause for Anne Williams - the only person that anyone is talking about is Luis Suarez.

What should happen to Luis Suarez?

When it was announced that Ian Ayre had cancelled a trip to Australia and the Far East my initial thought was one of horror. Ayre handling a crisis is like giving a toddler a grenade. Happily, the club seem to have handled this crisis rather better than previous ones. 

Liverpool have already fined Suarez for his action yesterday and it is likely that the FA will act against him. Liverpool, presumably having reviewed their handling of the Suarez-Evra affair, have acted swiftly and decisively. That said, it might have been better if, along with the fine, they'd decided to ban him for a number of games as clubs have done in the past. It might have taken the heat out of the matter a little.
The FA have said that he will be charged with violent conduct but that the normal three-match ban was ''clearly insufficient in these circumstances''. 

The problem is, with footballing punishments, is that comparisons make itdifficult for the FA and they can't come out of this well.

Compare Suarez's bite with Fellaini's headbutt on Shawcross? Should Suarez be punished less harshly, as harshly or more harshly than Fellaini? Fellaini was banned for three games.

Compare Suarez's bite of Ivanovic with Eden Hazard kicking a ballboy. Should Suarez be punished less harshly, as harshly or more harshly than Hazard? Hazard was banned for three games (although the FA pushed for four)

Compare Suarez's bite with John Terry's abuse of Anton Ferdinand? Should Suarez be punished less harshly, as harshly or more harshly than Terry? Terry was banned for four games. To any anti-racism campaigner a lengthier ban - regardless of the rights and wrongs of the Terry case - would suggest that the FA does not take racism as seriously as it claims.

Compare Suarez's bite with Keane's tackle on Alf-Inge Håland? ShouldSuarez be punished less harshly, as harshly or more harshly than Keane? Intotal, Keane was banned for eight games. The first suspension was for onlythree games but it was only when he admitted in his biography that it wasintentional that the FA took further action. He was subsequently charged withbringing the game into disrepute and banned for a further five games. 

Compare Suarez's bite with Ben Thatcher's assault on Pedro Mendes? Should Suarez be punished less harshly, as harshly or more harshly than Thatcher? Thatcher got an eight match ban from the FA with a further fifteen matches suspended. 

And, finally, compare Suarez's bite with the bite performed by Jermaine Defoe on Javier Mascherano. Defoe, rather fortunately for him, got a booking.

In the Defoe case, the FA didn't decide to use retrospective punishment because thereferee had seen the foul and given a booking.

People will argue that the FA can't use retrospective punishment if the referee hadseen an incident.

But, of course, The FA can use, and has used, retrospective punishment when the referee has seen an incident. Dermot Gallagher booked Ben Thatcher for his assault on Mendes but the FA did intervene. It said at the time that the challenge was sufficiently serious that had Thatcher been sent off, an additional sanction would have been merited. The FA called it an ''exceptional case''.

Given the FA can act and has acted retrospectively in exceptional cases, and given the FA has already given us a precedent that biting is not an exceptional case as they did with Defoe, it suggests to me that the ban shouldn't be much longer than a normal ban. The fact they are pushing for more suggests they have either changed their mind or, more likely, are listening to media dog whistles. It may be, though none of us knows, that what they mean by clearly insufficient is a four game ban - which is what they pushed for when Hazard kicked a child.

Others will argue that the KNVB have already set a precedent. That as Suarez has already been banned for 7 games for biting that should be the minimum he gets here. I'm not sure why the FA would, or should, be influenced by the KNVB's rulings other than to appease those hang 'em and flog 'em types. 

With all that in mind, I think Suarez could legitimately feel hard done by if he gets anything longer than a four game ban. I think a four game ban plus a fine (on top of the fine Liverpool have given him) would be a just ban.

I think there's a very strong argument, as it happens, for making punishments in football much harsher and more akin to those in rugby where players can be banned for many months. I'd support that but I think it has to happen at the start of a season when everyone in the game knows that.

The media and Suarez up a tree

Graeme Souness is a Liverpool playing legend but I'm unlikely to take lessons on footballing ethics from a man whose response to making a horror tackle was to complain to the referee about the state of his socks. 

Jamie Redknapp added Suarez's bite to the list of many things that he doesn't comprehend. This list, if one inspects it closely, includes ''the themes in Spot the Dog'' and ''Duplo''. It was, he said, an incredible act of brutality.

An incredible act of brutality, in a footballing sense, is what Ben Thatcher did to Pedro Mendes, what Roy Keane did to Alf Inge Håland or what Duncan Ferguson did to John McStay.

Whilst biting is a disgusting act, a filthy act, one which should lead to a substantial punishment for Suarez, I just don't see the it in the same league as the other acts. English football's ethical code is an odd one - it is the only place in the world where breaking a leg or headbutting a player is seen as more acceptable than spitting at someone.

The media feast on Suarez partly because Suarez puts himself on the table and hands out the knives and forks. But, equally, the media do not need to dine. 
If you are really disgusted by the behaviour of a player show it once and then move on. Don't treat it as a form of entertainment. Don't rewind, slow down, and zoom in. Complaining about ''we're not talking about the football, we're talking about Luis Suarez'' is utterly moronic. You are choosing to talk about Luis Suarez because you want to do so. Sky Sports could easily talk about Sturridge, or Rafa, or Torres or whatever else they wished to talk about from the game. (NB: I am writing about Luis Suarez because I want to do so!)

They will never ever admit it but they love Suarez's antics and misdemeanors. He gives them something to talk about. He creates storms on Twitter like no one else. He gives the phone-ins soapboxes to stand on. It drives the news cycle. He sells papers. He gives us all something to obsess over. The media would hate to see him go but they will inevitably usher him out of the English league. They will, in due course, moan that we keep losing players to the continent.

What is the worst thing that can happen on a pitch?

Whenever something bad happens on the pitch, some old blowhard will argue that it is the worst thing that can happen on a pitch. Racially abusing someone. Spitting. Diving. Biting. Getting a player sent off.

Oddly, deliberately injuring someone (like Keane) or assaulting someone with a headbutt (like Fellaini) are seen as better. It's a cultural thing, I think, but one I don't really get.

It is my rather quaint belief that the worst thing that someone can do to another player is badly injure them. Worse still is injuring someone with intent. That might count biting, admittedly, but it is unlikely that a bite - abhorrent as the act is and as deserving of punishment as the act is - will affect someone's career in the short-term never mind the long-term.

Most reading this article will not have broken a bone whilst playing football. Fewer still will have broken a bone due to a bad tackle. I have. 

So I know, thanks, exactly what it feels like to have your leg taken from underneath you in a two-footed challenge. I know what it feels like to hear the referee's whistle, a lot of commotion around you, and a weird sense of silence. I know what it feels like to look up to see the player who has tackled you in tears, various people looking down at you with bemused looks on their faces. You suddenly become very aware of your hands sinking into soft mud and, oddly, not being able to feel anything because adrenalin is pumping through you.

I am relatively lucky: I have never been, as far as I am aware, racially abused (bar some anti-English stuff in a pub in Glasgow). I have never been spat at.  I have never been bitten. However, on balance, I'd choose any of those three over another broken leg.

How do you deal with a troublesome asset?

The answer is to look to Sir Alex Ferguson. Look at how he handled Cantona, Keane, and Ferdinand. Cantona and Ferdinand both had extremely lengthy bans but, ultimately, they were worth the trouble.

Keane stayed at Manchester United for three years after he admitted that he'd deliberately injured another player.

Cantona, as well as being banned for months for kicking a fan (after being sent off), was fined for spitting at a fan, got sent off against Galatasaray (and escorted from the pitch), and got sent off in consecutive games (including stamping on John Moncur). When he was banned, Ferguson persuaded him to stay even though there was interest from abroad. When he handed in a transfer request, the request was turned down by the wily old Scot.

That isn't to say that Ferguson doesn't rule with an iron fist, That isn't to say Ferguson wouldn't ship out an unruly or disruptive player. However, what he shows is that if a player is part of his plans they stay part of his plans pretty much no matter what. The big question is: is Suarez part of Liverpool's long-term plans?

What we also need to remember is that football is different. When you hear the chap on the pub say
''if I did that in my work I'd be sacked''. Indeed. The difference, and sad fact, is that most of us are eminently replaceable. If I were sacked from my job tomorrow I'd imagine that my workplace could find someone else to do the job. It would not cost my workplace a huge amount of money to replace me. An advert in a newspaper or on a recruitment site, the cost of interview time and various other HR processes. Not a huge amount.

If Liverpool were to sack Luis Suarez what would occur? 

Firstly, they'd be releasing into the marketplace a man whose market value is likely to exceed £40m for free. Rather than recoup that money and fritter it away on young English players at inflated prices as is their want, Liverpool would just throw the £40m away and have to buy players with other funds. They'd have to replace Suarez and do so without the cushion of his transfer fee. That way lies madness.

Secondly, it is likely that a competitor - either on the European or English scene - would get that asset for free. This would mean that they could deploy their transfer warchest on other players. 

With that in mind, if I were a Manchester United or Chelsea fan, the last thing I would want is for Liverpool to sack Suarez. Yes, there would be the delight that Liverpool would fall further behind them in the short term but the likelihood is that Suarez would go to a major European competitor. Just what neither of those teams need.

It may be that Liverpool decide that the tipping point has been reached. The club may say that his goals aren't worth the damage to the club's reputation. My guess is that another club will put their reputation at risk and it is my guess that club will be in the Champions League.

It may be that Rodgers doesn't view Suarez as part of the future. That's his call. He'll need to find a lot of goals from somewhere else. I think he'll be there next season to the extent I might try some Online Betting on it. Good odds at present!



JuhanL said...

Whilst I do agree that for the victim a bad tackle and a broken leg is much worse than a bite I don't agree that the bans should be based on that.
I think the key thing is intent. If its a bad tackle, then most likely the player went for the ball and it was an honest attempt to play football best you can. But biting/spitting/abusing racially are completely different if you look at the intent. They're used to rile up the opposition deliberately and seen as unacceptable behaviour. For me intent is important. I'd like to think that my opponents on the football pitch are there to play football, not fight me. If I wanted to fight, I'd play a different sport.
Suarez, for all the good he brings, has also made some horrific tackles/stamps(I've seen five or six) and looking at how he is willing to do anything to win I'd guess more than one of them were deliberate.

Such disrespect towards your opponents is just appalling.

I think he'll get a 7 match ban or something like that and for me thats a just punishment.

Comparing this incident to others is somewhat pointless for me. Because these things are not comparable.

As for the media - you're right. He gives them headlines. But you said that 'media don't need to dine'. I don't think thats right. This is a big story because there's lots to talk about. If Suarez wouldn't have previous offenses it would be much smaller. They'd talk about it once and leave it. But its a part of a longer list of things he's done and I think its right to question Suarez' actions and re-evaluate him.

Whats not important here is how the media feels about Suarez. Does it matter if they secretly love that he brings them stories? They're there to put out thoughts about how they feel his actions should be viewed. Not about whether they like him or not.

I think he is someone who I'd never want to play football against because of his nastiness, but I really like how I can laugh about his next stupidity. Just like Balotelli. We all loved him secretly because he is crazy.

As English is not my mother tongue I hope I understood you correctly and could put my own thoughts into comprehensible sentences :).

Should Liverpool even think of selling him? No - that would be giving up on him. Rodgers should have a long talk with him to address the issues and try his hardest to make sure that Suarez wouldn't do such stupid things any more. He probably will, but for Liverpools sake he shouldn't. And I mean that about Liverpools results, not reputation. The talk about Liverpools reputation being tarnished is bollocks in my opinion. They can't control everything and this time they've handled the situation a lot better than some previous cases. And for me thats important.

I think that Suarez will only leave if someone Real or Barca make a HUGE bid for him. I mean 50m+. He is probably the best football player in England at the moment. Letting him go on a free would be madness and letting him go for a low price would be crazy as well.

dearieme said...

1) Yes, the Sturridge/Suarez combo looked terrific.
2) "Compare Suarez's bite of Ivanovic with Eden Hazard kicking a ballboy": but Hazard should have got a medal for kicking the little turd, so that comparison makes no sense.
3) Hats off to Ivanovic for not making a huge song and dance about it. If someone had bitten Suarez, he'd have been rolling about on the ground in fake agony.
4) Fang is a nasty piece of work, no doubt, but I agree that a nastier piece is Roy Keane.
5) I wouldn't be surprised in future to see some pretty nasty assaults on Suarez from defenders who may suspect that referees might give them a little leeway in that regard.

dearieme said...

P.S. Barca were well and truly rumbled last night, weren't they?

dearieme said...

I gather that Real were gubbed too.

Yet Barca and Real are better than any team in the EPL. Aren't they? Or should that be "Barca and Real were better than any team in the EPL"?

dearieme said...

I see that Fang has been suspended for as many games as Ivanovic has fingers on his hands. (Luckily Fang didn't fancy a digital feast.)