Is Suarez a disgrace?

There have been many great rivalries in English football over the years, but very few have encapsulated the true beauty of our nations’ football like the north-west derby. In fact, despite all the years where United’s title-deciding games have been against Arsenal, Chelsea, and more recently City (barring 08-09), Sir Alex Ferguson has always maintained that the biggest game of the season was against Liverpool. These are probably the two most passionate sets of fans, and the games have thrown up some wonderful occurrences. Who can forget Forlan’s double in 2003? Dossena’s chip in 2009? Berbatov’s hat-trick (including bicycle kick as standard)? This is without a doubt the greatest football rivalry in English football. These are reasons why the dark shadow thrown over this fixture today was so saddening for all football fans. But what’s the real story?

There is a lot of smoke surrounding this story, as no-one truly knows what happened. The Manchester United story is that in the game at Anfield earlier this season, Luis Suarez racially abused Patrice Evra, and was rightly handed an eight game ban. Of course, racism in football was a hot topic, after John Terry’s clear abuse towards Anton Ferdinand. With the former England captain awaiting trial, this case is “mild” in comparison, but still gravely serious. In the heat of a football match, tempers can flair over – this is well known to everyone. However, to come out with racist remarks can’t be classified as “unintentional”. These are footballers who are meant to be setting the example for our future generations. If they see this kind of behaviour, then what are they supposed to follow?

The Liverpool story is more detailed. Suarez called Evra “negrito”, which is a colloquialism in Uruguay, and not at all racist. Evra blew this out of proportion, and the eight game ban was unwarranted. Now, this is a fair view, as it is feasible that this is what Suarez said. There are two sticking points though. Firstly, it shouldn’t have been said anyway. A common saying at the moment is “banter” – a way of quantifying completely unreasonable behaviour – and many have labelled this case as this. I personally have friends from all over the world, but I wouldn’t go up to them and call them something as “borderline” as the language Suarez used. It’s not like Suarez and Evra are really close friends either. My other question – why would a Frenchman know about a colloquialism in Uruguay? I don’t know what the “banter” is like in Tanzania, but I certainly wouldn’t use it willy nilly.

So was Suarez right not to shake Evra’s hand? The Liverpool contingency will obviously back his decision. After all, eight games isn’t a light punishment, and without a doubt has restricted Liverpool in their ability to claim 4th. They will also point the finger at Evra’s celebration after the game, which may have been over the top. However, after Suarez’s disrespect towards the Frenchman at the handshakes, this was rather insignificant. The heat of the moment comes in to it again, and watching the game, I was reminded of Gary Neville’s reaction to a late winner for United a few years ago. Neville roared and roared towards the camera, before kissing his badge repeatedly. It was a great burst of passion, but Liverpool were furious about it. The only difference this time is that Liverpool have something to label it on. Some fans have even called for Evra to be fined. Of course, celebrations are on par with possible racism…

Of course, Suarez is no stranger to contempt. In the World Cup he punched a ball out of the goal, which despite getting him sent off, took the quarter final to penalties. Uruguay won, and Ghanaian hearts were broken. The wink to the camera as he walked off was too far. Sadly, no action was taken, as there are no rules in football against ‘unsporting behaviour’, but it did tarnish his reputation. Before this, he was Europe’s hottest striker, bagging a goal per game for Ajax. Oh how he has fallen.

Regardless of the details in the incident, Suarez is going to come off the bad guy here. Emmanuel Frimpong, who himself is outspoken and volatile, tweeted “I have just today realised Suarez is a total wasteman clown. Liverpool supporters saying Evra celebrated like he won the League. (I) am surprised they remember what that looks like.” This is the general opinion of Suarez though – he’s bad news. Some Liverpool fans tweeted “Ferdinand also refused to shake Suarez’s hand – isn’t that the same thing?” – no, because Ferdinand hasn’t just finished an eight game ban for reported racist abuse against Suarez. Ferdinand said “”I lost all respect for the guy. After seeing what he did, I decided I couldn’t shake his hand.” It’s interesting to see all the different views of the fans. Loyalty to your club is one thing, but this case helps to determine the difference between a loyal fan, and a football fan.

But why, of all weeks, was it this week? English football has been knocked down repeatedly this week, with Terry losing the captaincy, and Capello going. All of this stemmed from a racism case, so for the ‘less serious’ one to surface now has been disastrous. I have been careful throughout the article to use “possible” and “reported” as adjectives for the racism case, because I don’t know the ins and outs of the story. In fact, the only people who do are Suarez and Evra. Many have said “why couldn’t they have missed out the handshakes, like they did for Chelsea and QPR?”. The difference here though is that, as Terry was awaiting trial, the story had a long way to go. We won’t know the true story until after the European Championships. The FA would have seen the handshakes as a great opportunity to bury this case. It was simple – Suarez and Evra shake hands, and that’s it, case settled. Instead, the Uruguayan striker has fuelled the fire for this case to rumble on for a few more weeks.

Probably a more worrying issue for me though is Kenny Dalglish’s response to this. He spoke mostly of the game, and swept the issue under the carpet. With a player conducting himself in the way Suarez has, surely he must make some comment? Even backing him, as he did over the race row, would show strength. By simply not commenting shows a weakness, and an admittance in many ways. It’s hard to speak out against your player, but Kenny was seen flapping his arms calling for Suarez to “calm down” during the game. He knew this was a high tempo, and high pressure game – after all, it’s the North-West Derby. It is hard to see an end to this case though. Suarez tweeted cryptically that not everyone knew the “full story”, again fuelling the fire. If Evra has offended him, then he should go to the FA, surely not?

It’s been a bag week for English football. The last thing we needed was for this case to prolong any further, as it seemed to have ended. Instead, Suarez and Evra could both be called in by the FA for more investigations. Sir Alex Ferguson said “Suarez is a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club, he should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again. He could have caused a riot.” Suarez is a wonderful footballer, there is no denying that. However, he is also a burden, and has reignited a dead fuse. It’s a problem that cannot be ignored, but I hope for football’s sake that the battles for 1st and 4th are the focus of the media come May – not the mess we are now returning to.

Luke Smith @LukeSmithOnline

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