In Awe of the Awful: Reaction to the Luis Suarez / Giorgio Chiellini ‘bite’ incident

Luis Suarez…Luis, Luis, Luis…

I initially intended to leave this issue well alone. I didn’t see the closing 2014 World Cup Group D encounter between Italy and Uruguay live, nor Luis Suarez’s alleged (and, let’s be honest, pretty apparent – attempted or otherwise) seventy-seventh minute bite of Giorgio Chiellini.  I was made aware of it before the game finished, though – being shown clips via Twitter, I was asked to offer my opinion.  I found myself struggling for an opinion on it.  I love talking about Luis Suarez – I love watching him play football and I love looking forward to watching him play football during the build-up to a match-day.

As a Liverpool supporter, I’ve enjoyed watching some fine talents represent the Club – even during relatively fallow periods between the successes that have punctuated my near twenty-seven years as a supporter. Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Sami Hyypia, Didi Hamann, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia, Fernando Torres, can all lay claim to being right up there, but Luis Suarez tops the lot in terms of the sheer pleasure derived from watching him play – even the mere anticipation of it.  Suarez’s performance against Norwich City back in December was just ludicrous – his whole December was; his entire season was.

Again, I love talking about Luis Suarez – I love watching him play football and I love looking forward to watching him play football during the build-up to a match-day. Asked to offer an opinion on Tuesday’s incident, though, I just couldn’t summon one.  I figured it was suggestion of some sort of exhaustion about discussing opinions on the controversy that surrounds Luis Suarez – the controversy that he somehow inadvertently but inexplicably courts.

The stories are familiar. During the 2010 World Cup, he handled a goal-bound effort late on in the Quarter Final against Ghana – celebrating wildly when, having been dismissed, the subsequent penalty was missed and Uruguay proceeded to the next round.  When he arrived at Anfield, he was serving a ban for biting PSV’s Otman Bakkal whilst playing for Ajax in November 2010.  The infamous race-row concerning Luis Suarez and Manchester United’s Patrice Evra kicked-off less than a year later, in October 2011 – following a lengthy ban, there was a furore over a non-handshake in the return fixture in February.  In April 2013, he allegedly bit Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic – unseen by the referee, Suarez went on to score a late equaliser before being issued a lengthy ban spanning the summer.  Sometime during these seasons, tales of Suarez assaulting a referee as a youngster became something between myth and legend – Wright Thompson recently pursued this story in a fantastic article for ESPN.  Whilst serving this ban, he attempted to engineer a move away from Anfield – Manager Brendan Rodgers and the Club’s hierarchy stood firm, however, and neither Arsenal nor Real Madrid could secure Suarez’s services for the 2013-14 season.

Luis Suarez then went on to underline his footballing genius during Liverpool’s 2013-14 unexpected title-challenging campaign. ‘Best player in the world’ has long been a two-horse race – it was during the last year, too.  But Suarez was one of those two horses.  Up until last season, Suarez was generally loathed by the footballing world but it was his footballing ability that began to dominate the headlines last season.  The World Cup, drawing England and Uruguay together, brought more of a ‘pantomime villain’ tag than any of the vitriol previously on show – a returning Suarez delivered on his ability during the meeting between the sides, demonstrating his class with two fine finishes to win the match.  Less than ninety-minutes of international football later, Suarez shed the ‘pantomime villain’ tag – inviting vitriol once again through the clash with Chiellini.

As I say, I couldn’t be bothered offering an opinion initially. I think I’ve long since reached a saturation point with the controversy that surrounds Luis Suarez – whatever the opinions I have previously attached.  Perhaps Luis Suarez, Liverpool footballer, is one subject that has led me to let my values slip – a guilty pleasure of sorts; a value beyond values.  Perhaps his football, and ours with him, is just so good that I’m willing to take the rough with the smooth.  I suspect I’m not alone amongst Liverpool supporters.  They can hate us for that if they want – I reckon we’re comfortable enough with it.

I was in mocking denial when I first heard about Tuesday’s incident. Then, when the tone of the informants suggested truth, it became more of an eye-rolling frustration.  “He has to go”, they said, “£56m plus Alexis Sanchez suddenly sounds good!”.  No (erm…) bite or reaction, though – just a subtle, disbelieving, headshake.

Arriving home, I switched on BBC One – preferring to watch Colombia-Japan rather than Greece-Ivory Coast, I switched to BBC Three and my initial disappointment at hearing the voices of Jonathan Pearce and Mark Lawrenson (who really does hate football) was compounded when they began discussing the Luis Suarez incident during the opening moments of the match. Eventually I saw clash between Suarez and Chiellini on the television – first it looked better (less bad?) than the clips I’d seen on phones, then it looked worse; then it looked really bad.  Gary Lineker introduced the segment in a sombre tone, gazing into the camera in a manner suggestive of a news-breaking tragedy having occurred.  Alan Shearer (“the pictures are damning”) and Robbie Savage (“that is absolutely shocking”) offered their condemnation whilst, over on BBC Three, Dion Dublin (calling for a half-season ban) and John Hartson offered theirs.

Exchanging a couple of text messages with my Dad and a family friend before taking a look at Twitter and RAWK from behind the sofa, it became clear that this was going to be a tough one to avoid.  There’s also the likelihood of sofa-duty on The Redmen TV’s ‘Brazil 2014 Uncut’ and ‘Reds Roundup’ shows next week – ensuring that the latest Luis Suarez incident is going to have to be on my mind for at least the next six days!  Paul has already alluded to the convenient hysteria that lies ahead and will likely offer initial reaction on Wednesday, whilst a recent tweet of John’s appears wryly amusing in hindsight.  I’ve also got a job to go to tomorrow, so being without an opinion on the incident seems somewhat untenable.

Lineker read out some reported post-match quotes of Luis Suarez’s via the BBC – that “these things happen in the box” is no great excuse, nor is it particularly precise use of the term ‘these things’, but there’s an argument for him not being far wrong. There is no excuse whatsoever for biting a fellow professional footballer on the field of play, just as there is no excuse for any person biting another in any scenario – ever (I’m sure we can all hear Chris piping up at this point – I’ll qualify that with ‘maliciously’!).

With there being no excuse, I shall make no attempt to excuse Suarez for his behaviour – he was in the wrong and is deserving of a suspension according to footballing rules. In addition, you’d hope and expect that Liverpool Football Club will endeavour to give the incident, it’s causes, and it’s consequences, their attention – indeed, you’d hope that they’ve been doing so behind-the-scenes for fourteen months already.  Luis Suarez engaged Giorgio Chiellini in an act of violent conduct and is fully-deserving of appropriate disciplinary punishment.

It’s the hysteria that is frustrating, however. It’s the hysteria that makes the incident frustratingly difficult to avoid.  Everyone involved with or interested in football is going to be talking about this on Wednesday.  Indeed, even some not even interest in football are likely to pass comment and judgement – rather like in the aftermath of the unusual incident between Eden Hazard and the Swansea City ball boy in January 2013.  Suarez’s was an act of violent conduct – not unsual within a footballing context – that was shocking due to its unusual nature.  Pundits have already grapped with the incident – Danny Murphy tip-toed around implying that it would have been more acceptable had Suarez been provoked, whilst Savage and Hartson considered the alleged bite as higher up an imaginary violent-conduct hierarchy than a headbutt or lashing-out with an arm or a leg, respectively.

The FA and FIFA definitions of ‘violent conduct’ are almost identical, citing the use of “excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball”.  Hysteria, with apologies for repetition, is what will follow Tuesday’s incident amongst football supporters, commentators, and media, as well as footballing ‘outsiders’.  I wish not to get drawn into a hierarchical assessment of various historical and recent incidents, but a torrent of vitriolic opinion inevitably looms I can’t help but think that it’s somewhat disproportionate to its source – even within the surreal boundaries of the footballing context.  It’s perfectly understandable that the incident will command disproportionate media attention, carrying such news value (a nod to Galtung and Ruge!) – it’s shock value is its most striking attribute, whilst the fact it concerns repeat offender and world-class footballer, Premier League-villain, Luis Suarez only heightens its claim to column inches.  Second-thoughts are surely warranted, however.

In earlier cases concerning Luis Suarez, Jermain Defoe’s bite of Javier Mascherano in 2006 has been cited – as Defoe was booked, the FA declined to take subsequent disciplinary action.  The only remotely similar incident that springs to mind immediately is Fernando Torres’ scratch of Jan Vertonghen in 2013 – like Defoe, Torres escaped punishment.  Suarez’s castigation in the coming days will eclipse these examples as if they never existed.  Is it worse?

Ben Thatcher’s assault on Pedro Mendez in 2006 is one of the worst footballing offences that springs to mind and the then-Man City player was duly chastised and punished for his offence (the FA applying an initial eight-game ban).  Roy Keane’s horrific and infamous challenge on Alfe-Inge Haaland in 2001 was dealt with in a routine manner until Keane’s revelation that it was pre-meditated prompted the FA to issue a five-match ban.  Many think that Luis Suarez should face greater sanctions due to his World Cup misdemeanour.  Was his act worse than these two examples?  What about Mourinho?

In a number of rapid-fire messages to my Dad, having seen the BBC pundits, Twitter, and RAWK offer opinion on Tuesday’s incident, I suggested that Luis Suarez’s act was inexcusable but that ‘thousands’ (this may have been an ambiguous detail, admittedly) of worse offences that have no place on a football pitch have occurred on football pitches. I suspect that ‘thousands’ more will.  Look out for a few of them during this World Cup – you’ll have already seen a couple.

I make no apologies for making use of Liverpool-focused incidents – they’re naturally my most convenient resource and I’m writing this well-beyond midnight, midweek. Was Suarez’s act against Chiellini worse than Gerrard on Gary Naysmith (three-match ban)?  Was it worse than Michael Essien on Hamann?  How about Frank Lampard on Alonso, or Daniel Agger on Torres?  Was it worse than when Carragher hurt Nani, or Kevin Mirallas on Suarez himself?  How about Samuel Eto’s hatchet-job on Jordan Henderson?  Thinking about England’s recent World Cup warm-ups versus Ecuador and Honduras, was Suarez’s offence definitely worse than that of Antonio Valencia on Raheem Sterling or Emilio Izaguirre striking the ball at Daniel Sturridge maliciously from close range?  Zinedine Zidane has yet to serve his World Cup ban, whilst Neymar’s recently avoided a ban and serial-‘elbower’ Marouane Fellaini has netted during this World Cup.

Again, I wish not to be drawn into tit-for-tat arguments over Luis Suarez’s clash with Giorgio Chiellini but it is clear that there will be an awful lot of comment on the incident and, indeed, there is already a clamour for a significant ban. We await FIFA’s likely disciplinary action, with it seemingly unthinkable that they will take none.  The FA are unlikely to act, though they’d probably love to, due to the precedent it would set – many will, however, turn their attention onto the AUF and Liverpool Football Club to see if any internal action is taken.

There’s no excuse at all for Luis Suarez’s apparent bite of Giorgio Chiellini during Tuesday’s 2014 World Cup Group G encounter – nor is there any excuse for any form of violent conduct within a footballing, or any other, environment. He’s fully deserving of any extra criticism that comes his way as a repeat offender, too.  Nor should these throwaway comparisons with other ugly scenes from footballs recent past be seen as making light of Suarez’s act – it was truly despicable and, as with all others, has no place in or out of football.    ‘It wasn’t as bad as…’ just doesn’t cut it as an excuse.

My opinion on the act itself goes little beyond that – I can’t revert to the initial mocking denial but the eye-rolling frustration still seems appt. It can’t be blindly ignored but neither do I think it means that Liverpool and Suarez must sever ties.  I just hope that we can see Tuesday’s incident for what it was – Luis Suarez committed a deplorable act of violent conduct and is deserving of disciplinary retribution.  Amidst the inevitable vitriol and hysteria, an act of violent conduct was committed – it should be judged as such, rather than for its novel and shock value.


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2 thoughts on “In Awe of the Awful: Reaction to the Luis Suarez / Giorgio Chiellini ‘bite’ incident

  1. nor is there any excuse for any form of violent conduct within a footballing, or any other, environment. I’m sure Neville Chamberlain thought the same…..

  2. Pingback: Pre-Match Q & A: Jack Harte from The Redmen TV | STANDING ALONE

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