x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Luis Suarez important for Liverpool but self-restraint is vital in football

It is clear the Uruguayan striker is a potential liability on the pitch so will Liverpool dump him or take further risks with the scoring threat.

Luis Suarez led his team with 23 goals but after a 10-game ban was handed down, it may be his last season in a Liverpool uniform. Andrew Cowie / AFP
Luis Suarez led his team with 23 goals but after a 10-game ban was handed down, it may be his last season in a Liverpool uniform. Andrew Cowie / AFP

Bolton Wanderers' centre-half was driving me mad. I was playing for Blackburn Rovers in a big relegation derby match at Bolton and Mike Whitlow was doing his best to unsettle me. He was a player of limited ability compared to the lads I'd played with, but perfect for a lower Premier League team. He always gave 100 per cent. He was a battler.

During that game, he pushed and pulled, tugging at my shirt and making comments to try and unsettle me. This was nothing new to me. Every defender tries to unnerve the player they're marking. The mental battle in football is as important as the physical. If a defender can get an attacker to lose his temper, then he's done his job. Whitlow did his job on me that day, finally getting me to react by raking his foot down my leg in a challenge that was the final straw. I snapped, lost my rag and retaliated by stamping on his leg 18 minutes from time.

Whitlow got a yellow card, I was rightly sent off. Bolton went ahead a few minutes later, though my teammates got an equaliser without me.

I received a three-game ban, which I didn't appeal. None of my teammates came out and supported me. Why should they? I was in the wrong. My manager, Graeme Souness, accused Whitlow of play-acting, but even he admitted that I had to go.

Self-restraint is vital in football. If you can't discipline yourself then you might as well forget about making it at the top level, though exceptions are made when someone is hugely talented.

The Brazilian forward Romario and his side-kick Edmundo used to go out to discos the night before games. Romario claimed that he didn't score if he didn't go out and that he did what he liked in his private life, which was fine if he performed on match day. His lifestyle caused problems when he didn't do the business and he was sacked by several clubs.

Edmundo was sent off seven times in one season and once spent a week under arrest in Ecuador after destroying a TV camera.

The pair of them were headbangers and they paid the price for their antics. They moved from club to club, they even fell out with each other, but they managed to hold it together long enough to beat the Manchester United side I played for in the inaugural World Club Championship in Rio in 2000. It reminded the world why so many managers had indulged them. Managers at every level have the same problem and so does Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool.

Luis Suarez is undoubtedly talented and the main source of Liverpool's goals. He's scored 23 league goals this season, a superb achievement for any player, let alone one playing for a team in the table.

Liverpool fans defend him because he's an excellent footballer. They need more like him if they're going to get back in Europe, but would they defend a fringe player so much? His teammates defend him because they like him and need him, too, but that doesn't make them right and some of their comments are cringe-worthy. Brendan Rogers didn't explain why Suarez bit Branislav Ivanovic, but mentioned his upbringing in South America. I've played with several South American players and none of them acted like vampires.

Some claim there's a witch hunt against Suarez, but there would be nothing if he behaved himself. It really is that simple. You can't bite people and not expect there to be an outrage. Biting, like spitting at someone, is degrading and not just on a football field. Nor is it the first time that Suarez has done this. He bit an opponent in his last game for Ajax and was given a seven-game ban.

Suarez clearly has issues and people talk about him needing help, but he needs to help himself, first. He's apologised, but offered no explanation as to why he did what he did.

Liverpool need to decide what they want to do. Keep their best player at the risk of further incidents which will damage a club with a great history and reputation? Continue with a player who loses his temper and is more likely to get sent off? If you're sent off against a good team your teammates don't have a chance. Look at Manchester United against Real Madrid recently, not that Nani deserved his red card.

Suarez could become a liability to himself, his team and his club. His future is for him and Liverpool to decide. Do they persist with a top player, or cash in by selling him and move on? Finding a replacement of Suarez's quality will be difficult, taming his wild streak might prove impossible.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

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