What now for Suarez and Liverpool?


    Luis Suarez was today handed a four month ban from all football activities by FIFA after their panel decided that he should be severely punished for his latest bite on an opponent – this time on Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini during Uruguay’s final group game with Italy on Tuesday evening.

    He will miss the rest of the World Cup during a nine match ban given to him in addition to the four months, which will also mean his club are punished as he will miss Liverpool’s opening nine Premiership fixtures along with three Champions League group phase matches and a League Cup third round tie.

    FIFA had to react fast to his third bite on an opponent, incidentally in a third different shirt after doing so while playing for Ajax and Liverpool previously, and the verdict was delayed from Wednesday into Thursday while an agreement was reached between the panel members.

    The ban handed to Suarez has smashed the previous punishment given to a player for bad conduct during a World Cup after Italy’s Mauro Tassotti was banned for eight matches after he broke the nose of Spain’s Luis Enrique during the World Cup in 1994.

    It is the latest in a growing string of controversies for the striker after he was given a seven match ban by the Dutch FA for biting the shoulder of PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal during an Eredivisie fixture in 2010, which wasn’t long after his handball on the line against Ghana in the World Cup quarter final. Suarez then managed to avoid such indiscipline at Anfield until he was fined £40,000 and banned for eight matches after being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in December 2011.

    Suarez appeared to be managing his behavioural issues subsequently, but he then inexplicably bit into the arm of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a league fixture against Chelsea in April of last year. He was given an eight match ban split across the end of the 2012/13 season and the 2013/14 one which has just ended – which only applied to domestic football and not international.

    Suarez appeared to be getting into the spirit of a tournament that has seen open and attacking play thus far with his double against England last Thursday that helped to see his country bounce back from the disappointing opening loss to Costa Rica the weekend before. He also showed his warmer side at the end of the game by comforting club team mate Steven Gerrard rather than celebrate the momentous win with his Uruguayan colleagues.

    But he has left the tournament in shame and disgrace after yet another bite on an opponent during a frustrating encounter, which appears to be key to this most strange of reactions to difficulty.

    FIFA should be credited for dealing with the incident so swiftly, regardless of the continuing embarrassment being caused to the Uruguayan national side with the reaction from their FA and media. The claims that this was a “non-event” and a conspiracy by the European media are fanciful at best and appalling at worst. Their national side is clearly a far weaker prospect without one of the top players in world football available, but it also points to a lack of social responsibility and acceptance of consequences of such poor conduct.

    Suarez was seemingly in the process of turning around his reputation and appeared closer to redemption when he was awarded the player of the year award by both his fellow professionals and also by the media he claims does not respect him enough. It previously seemed a tactic to help facilitate a move to La Liga this Summer, but the claims that the bite was also a tactic to force a switch to either Barcelona or Real Madrid seem far fetched at best.

    That’s not to say he hasn’t been treated unfairly by the press here in England, as claims have been made that The Mirror newspaper published doctored photographs to make the impact on Chiellini’s shoulder appear worse than they were. Not that it should matter how red the Juventus defenders skin was given the ridiculous nature of the assault. But he and his legal team cannot point to a conspiracy against his as the reason he is leaving Brazil in shame.

    The fact that Suarez’s latest bite was seen by a huge global audience only worsens the clamour for him to be severely punished and made an example of. Many, albeit outrageously, were calling for bans ranging from two years to a lifetime ban from the game for the forward. Former England full back Danny Mills even called for Suarez to be jailed for the bite.

    But it’s Liverpool who can feel most aggrieved by the ban placed on the 27 year old. They have made the most effort to rehabilitate and help Suarez after his bans for the incidents with Evra and Ivanovic, only to be repaid with a four month ban for the player that will see him unable to even train let alone play until late October or even November, depending on when the ban is rubber stamped.

    That will see Suarez sit out nine Premiership matches as well as three Champions League fixtures and a League Cup tie. It will be a bitter blow to Brendan Rodgers, who has worked as hard as anyone to turn around the reputation and behaviour of the troubled striker.

    The club have made a statement on the ruling, which is fairly non-committal and revealing as to what their position is on the matter. While the fans have given mixed reactions to the ban, with some disappointed with the punishment being extended to the club but most angered by the latest failure to control his behaviour on the pitch.

    Suarez came back brilliantly from his last ban to help steer Liverpool closer to a first league title since 1990 and had gained forgiveness from the vast majority of fans still smarting from that and his attempts to force an exit from Anfield last Summer. He managed to score an excellent 31 goals despite being missing from league duty until late September.

    But there is also the damage being done to the reputation of the club by the string of indiscretions from Suarez, which will also be noted by sponsors of both Liverpool and Suarez himself.

    It all leaves the club in a very difficult position with little room for manoeuvre over the future of Suarez. They appeared keen to fend off increasing interest in a player who has pushed himself into the realm of output and ability of the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – whose clubs have incidentally been strongly linked with a mega money battle for the Uruguayan.

    Suarez appeared to be angling for a move to La Liga after slamming the English media after dismantling England with his match winning brace that all but ended Roy Hodgson’s chances of taking his side further in the competition. But will Barça and Real still be interested in a player whose baggage is almost equal to his talent?

    Those who work with Suarez on a day to day basis speak very highly of him and are constantly surprised by the behaviour he is susceptible to on the pitch. He is very popular with everyone at the club from the playing and coaching staff down to those who serve his meals at Melwood. He is said to be a family man with a massive will to win and succeed for both his club and national teams.

    But unfortunately for those willing him to become a more rounded professional, he appears to be transformed once he enters a football pitch into a player who cannot control his behaviour when things become frustrating and difficult.

    Suarez’s difficult childhood in Uruguay is oft pointed to as a factor in his ability to push boundaries and shock, but he is not alone in the world of football when it comes to such rags to riches scenarios.

    He has been urged to seek professional help by those around him, supporters and even fans of rival teams. But it could be too little, too late when it comes to having an Anfield future.

    If indeed he wants one.

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