x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Problems of Luis Suarez are Liverpool's own making

Despite full knowledge of the goldfish bowl in which they operate, the Liverpool board chose to spend £23m bringing Suarez to Anfield in early 2011.

Much as Luis Suarez keeps attracting trouble, Liverpool have often ignored his misdeeds. Peter Byrne / AP Photo
Much as Luis Suarez keeps attracting trouble, Liverpool have often ignored his misdeeds. Peter Byrne / AP Photo

Liverpool still do not get it, do they?

At first it seemed they did. In the 24 hours after Luis Suarez sank his teeth into Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic, the club appeared to have learnt some valuable lessons from that infamous racism row with Patrice Evra, the flames of which were fanned by some ham-fisted crisis management at Anfield.

Suarez made a full and frank apology, which was good - although it would have been even better if he had shown the same contrition by not wildly celebrating his late equaliser, scored when he should have been taking an early bath.

The club was also quick to condemn the bite, hitting Suarez with the maximum fine of two week's wages (around £240,000 (Dh1.3 million) and insisting that the player undergoes anger-management therapy.

The facade began to crumble, however, in the club's reaction to the 10-match ban handed down by the Football Association.

With Suarez having already foolishly lobbied for a three-match ban - the standard issue for acts of violent conduct - Liverpool's managing director Ian Ayre expressed "shock and disappointment" when the inevitably longer punishment was handed down. He declined to say much more as the club may yet appeal.

However, it seems likely that he would agree with the fans, from whom came the familiar cry of "witch hunt!"

They believe their brilliant striker is unfairly singled out for criticism in the media, which creates a climate of public hysteria in which the authorities feel pressurised into handing out sterner punishments.

There may be a kernel of truth in that theory.

Despite his brilliance - and, to an extent, because of it - Suarez is the undeniable bogeyman of English football.

It is hard to imagine the British prime minister being asked, as he was this week, to react to a similar incident at, say, Birmingham City. But therein lies the issue.

Liverpool is one of the most scrutinised clubs in the country - probably second only to Manchester United.

It is a club which, commendably, promotes itself as a bastion of high standards in all matters.

And yet despite these high standards, and despite full knowledge of the goldfish bowl in which they operate, the Liverpool board chose to spend £23m bringing Suarez to Anfield in early 2011.

At that time, he was probably best known to the general public for two incidents.

The first was a cynical goal-line handball which prevented Ghana from reaching the semi-final of the 2010 World Cup - a crime he compounded afterwards with some wild celebrating and a joke about making "the save of the tournament".

The second was his biting of a PSV Eindhoven player while playing for Ajax, for which he received a seven-match ban.

If this is a witch hunt, then it was Liverpool that provided the suspect and the global stage.

Suarez arrived at Anfield laden with narrative, a perfect pantomime villain. The media sharpened its pencils in readiness, but it was up to Suarez whether to give us the next chapter.

And, boy, did he deliver with Evra. Now he has delivered again, and every time Liverpool make excuses for him, or try to defend the indefensible, or complain about perceived unfair treatment, they just add colour to the story, and thus increase the likelihood of future chapters.

Liverpool can kill off this narrative by selling Suarez. Keep him, and the best they can do is to ensure that the next chapter is as boring as possible by accepting the punishment with quiet dignity.

Will that happen? I doubt it. Like a Serbian defender's arm, there is plenty of meat left in this tale.

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