x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Luis Suarez a victim of reputation as much as own misdemeanours

As reprehensible as the Liverpool forward's biting of Branislav Ivanovic was, writes Jonathan Wilson, the reaction seems to have been inflated by the player's track record.

Luis Suarez shows the strain during his side's 2-2 draw with Chelsea.
Luis Suarez shows the strain during his side's 2-2 draw with Chelsea.

Luis Suarez had been doing very well. He had been beginning to restore his reputation.

He is the top scorer in the Premier League this season and in a year of transition for Liverpool has been their one consistently outstanding performer.

He was named on the six-man shortlist to be players' Player of the Year and had given a series of interviews that gave a glimpse of the relaxed, joking, self-aware man behind the snarling, hyped-up on field persona.

Here was somebody, it was possible to think, who played on the edge, tried to gain any advantage he could to win the game and occasionally went too far.

Even that, he said, he was trying to address thanks in part of the influence of his wife Sofia.

"She's my biggest critic, she always comes to watch me," he said in yesterday's Sunday Times. "She asks what I'm doing, why am I arguing with the referee. 'All you've done today is turn up to shout at people, why don't you concentrate on playing football?'

"If I don't, they [Sofia and his daughter, Delfina] won't come and watch me anymore. These are things my wife has picked up on and so has everyone else, so it has made me think."

And then came Sunday's second half against Chelsea, which felt like a distillation of Suarez's career, the best and the worst crammed in to three quarters of an hour.

There was a magnificent pass for Daniel Sturridge to open the scoring. There was the needless handball that cost Liverpool a penalty. There was the headed equaliser in the final minute of injury time.

And, between the handball and the goal, there was the bite, Suarez sinking his not inconsiderable teeth into Branislav Ivanovic's arm.

VIDEOS: Click here to see sport's worst biting incidents

Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, made a half-hearted effort at deflection, pointing to a stray elbow from Fernando Torres that had caught Jamie Carragher in the first half, but Liverpool soon accepted that Suarez's action was indefensible and inexcusable.

Suarez apologised a few hours after the game, ringing Ivanovic to say sorry. He will almost certainly face a lengthy ban - perhaps as much as the seven-game suspension he received while an Ajax player for biting PSV Eindhoven's Otman Bakkal on the neck.

There is a weary sense this is just another controversy among many: the incident in which he was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra and banned for eight games, the alleged punch on Chile's Gonzalo Jarra in a World Cup qualifier for which he is being investigated by Fifa, the dives, the handballs, the gestures at fans ... Perhaps it's not surprising some have suggested Liverpool are best getting rid of him.

Yet reprehensible as the bite was, was it that bad? Obviously biting is wrong and obviously there should be a ban, but the unusualness of the offence seems to have inflated the reaction.

Play on the edge and occasionally you fall off. A punch or a bad tackle is far more likely to do serious damage. The former Liverpool captain Graeme Souness was vehement in his criticism of Suarez, yet he once punched the Dinamo Bucharest midfielder Lica Movila so hard in a European Cup semi-final that he broke his jaw in two places.

There have been biting incidents before: who remembers now that Jermain Defoe bit Javier Mascherano in 2006 and got away without a ban because he had been booked for the incident during the game?

Besides which, there are the pragmatic considerations. Football clubs simply don't get rid of successful, gifted players for episodes of indiscipline. Manchester United even managed to rehabilitate Eric Cantona after he kicked a fan.

Suarez is 26 and contracted until 2017 and insists he is happy at the club despite the lack of Champions League - and next season perhaps also Europa League - football.

It may be that Liverpool do sell him in the summer, but if they do it will be to cash in on asset near the peak of his value to fund wider investment, and not because of his behaviour.

A bite is bad but for Liverpool, for any club, the goals and the all-round play outweigh that.

sports@thenational.ae

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