Luis Suarez has never been far from the back pages throughout his time at Anfield, and whilst his talent is undeniable, his character continues to divide people into two camps- those who love him and those who, well…don’t. Unless you are Uruguayan or a Liverpool fan, chances are you are in the latter category and last Sunday’s game against Chelsea probably didn’t do much for the 26-year-olds case.
In the aftermath of ‘the bite’ the media were queuing up to condemn Suarez, with his past exploits being used as evidence to condemn him as public enemy number 1. “Liverpool should sell now to keep their reputation intact” stated one newspaper, with another listing its top 5 Suarez ‘controversies’. Photos were published showing Suarez with vampire teeth, with a new nickname created in ‘the cannibal’. The media makes sure Suarez cannot hide from his past by constantly re-playing all of his lower moments like a greatest hits CD. Suarez has become the classic villain, shamed in a way not too dissimilar to a foreign dictator in war time propaganda.
In many ways that is what Suarez has become; an international alien which instead of bothering to discover and try to understand- the unsure media has created an enemy of in its ignorance. Many of Suarez’ ‘controversies’ can be put down to a cultural difference. The racism row with Patrice Evra started with a misunderstanding, with Suarez falling foul of a mistranslation. It’s not the first time a South American’s actions have been misunderstood and then condemned. Carlos Tevez was depicted as being lazy after apparently refusing to come on as a substitute for Manchester City in a Champions League match in 2011. Although Tevez, who speaks very limited English, widely argued he did not understand his manager’s orders- he was demonised in the media.
Although Suarez’ actions have appeared immoral, insensitive and unsporting in the past, he has not committed any unique crime or any unprecedented act of malice with his celebrations under the Everton fans being emulated by Wayne Rooney. Suarez’ handball in the 2010 World Cup to against Ghana were described as the ultimate act of cheating, but many players, such as Ludovic Guily and Muzzy Izzet have done so for their teams in the past. Some argue the difference is the context of the semi-final; but in such circumstances would most players not do the same? Suarez did give a penalty away for the handball and accepted the ban which ruled him out of the semi-final in good grace.
Suarez is not by nature a dirty player, yet is treated with much less respect in the terraces than leg-breakers such as Ryan Shawcross and Lee Cattermole. He is not known for his dissent and disobeying manager’s orders like some high-profile players. Many dislike Suarez for diving, which is fair criticism. However diving is a foul referee’s treat on par with say shirt pulling or blocking an opponent, which players do all the time. Thomas Mueller committed a blatant body-check against Barcelona on Tuesday evening to allow a team-mate to score, but hasn’t been criticised in the media anywhere near as much as a Suarez dive would have.
It is worth remembering Jermaine Defoe bit an opponent in a 2006 league match for Spurs, for which he was given a light punishment compared to the ten-game ban Suarez is expected to receive. After the Defoe incident then Spurs manager Martin Jol laughed off the incident as being comical.
Suarez has been unfairly treated as a figure you love to hate, and put alongside serial villain Joey Barton in many peoples lists. The number seven’s skills and finishing ability have been Liverpool’s only saving grace this season- and the idea that he should leave to save Liverpool’s reputation is laughable. Without their best player Liverpool may be in the lower reaches of the Premier League, with no reputation left to speak of at all. Instead Liverpool should stand by their man and as Jamie Carragher said Suarez should be helped rather than hounded. Suarez will rightly be punished, but deserves a fresh start when he comes back.