Because of my well-documented emotional association with Liverpool Football Club in England it has always been difficult for me to comment on the so-called controversies involving striker Luis Suarez. Since I hold a minority view, it is easy for people to think I take that position because he plays for a club I have supported for over 30 years but the record will show that is not necessarily the case.
Suarez was not a Liverpool player in 2010 when he stopped a goal-bound header with his hands in the World Cup quarter-finals between his Uruguay and Ghana. My initial reaction to his action then was that of anger because I wanted an African team to make the semi-finals but after sobering up I held that he did the best for his team and Ghana were given the chance to make the semis — not once but twice — via the penalty spot but did not take it.
I would be the last to claim that Suarez is a saint but I would also be quick to argue that public reaction to his indiscretions is usually way over the top. It is like there is one rule for Suarez and another for other players. Obviously he has fallen down too easily for my liking at times, but the way he is portrayed is like he is the worst in that regard when the English Premier League has more fitting candidates for that accolade.
Indeed, while people want to talk of the striker’s dives, he has seldom benefited from them by way of winning spot-kicks while one can easily point at incidents when he was clearly fouled in the box but the referee chose either to caution him or do nothing about it. Other culprits, who shall remain anonymous in this discussion, have actually profited by getting a breakthrough or winning goal from the spot.
Talk of winning goals brings me to the latest episode in Suarez’s run-in with the public as the hate figure of English football. Nobody would dispute that his hand made contact with the ball before he scored what turned out to be the winner but calling him a cheat as the British media and others have chosen to characterise the incident only betrays a deep-seated hatred for the player more than anything else.
Here is a player who is on his way towards goal, shoots and the goalkeeper’s close-range block ricochets against his hand. At that point it is up to the referee and his assistants to make the call and players are always advised to play to the whistle. If the officials decide to let the incident go unpunished it is they, and not the player, who should be chastised. The way Suarez kicked the ball actually had hints of frustration rather than glee.
There are those who say he should have shown fair play by kicking the ball out or allowing Mansfield Town to score a goal unchallenged. Well, that would have been great but the fact that he did not do that does not make him a cheat because he did not break any law of the game. In any case, there is no evidence that such a gesture would have helped change his image because it seems people have decided to hate him regardless.
Rather than focus on his odd indiscretion, my advice is for fans and the media alike to cherish the talent that the man undoubtedly possesses. He is not the first highly skilled player with a dark spot but I think he is a credit to the game more than he is a liability and I hope he will vindicate this view tomorrow at Old Trafford.