independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

James Lawton: Why Liverpool should turn their back on Suarez

Luis Suarez’s 10-game ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic last weekend has divided opinion as to whether or not he should stay at Liverpool

It was less than a million years ago when Bill Shankly ordered the sign above the players' tunnel that said, 'This Is Anfield', but there were times this week, as the wagons were again circling around Luis Suarez, when you might have taken some persuading.

This was because the founder of the Liverpool tradition intended more than just another routine piece of intimidation for quailing visitors such as the "Drury Lane boys" of Tottenham Hotspur.

The sign was also supposed to make a statement about a place of rock-like conviction, an unending commitment to certain values. High among them was that the players of Liverpool Football Club were obliged to do more than win football matches. As Shankly put it: "You have to make the people proud."

By way of recognition of that insistent demand, there is an inscription beneath the bronze image of the great man that stands at the Kop end of the ground he filled with such passion. "He made the people happy," it says.

They are not so happy now. They are enraged and confused. Many of them share the indignation of the club hierarchy over the 10-game ban administered to Saurez after his biting of Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic, the second such offence in a career profile filled with both brilliant accomplishment and grotesque misbehaviour.

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Others believe that sooner or later the club have to make some accommodation with another mantra favoured by Shankly, the one that says that no one is bigger than the club.

In terms of public noise and internet traffic, the latter group seemed to be in a clear minority, but then soon after club managing director Ian Ayre announced that Liverpool were shocked and disappointed over Suarez's sentence another voice was heard above the tribal clamour of Merseyside. It belonged to Richard Pedder, the chairman of the supporters' club, who had a rather broader perspective.

He declared: "I don't think it is a shock. I think Suarez deserves everything he gets. It is down to the club to tell him, 'this is your last chance.' He will not leave the club this summer.

"They shouldn't have said anything and just accepted the ban. With them releasing a statement, it's going on again and we want it closed. We haven't had enough but we're concerned. No one is bigger than the club."

It was a small voice of reason which also carried a hint of compromise, but was anyone listening?

It was not likely in that roaring tide of Liverpool indignation. The club who were in denial when Suarez was banned for eight games for his racial abuse of Manchester United's Patrice Evra, who produced T-shirts of support approved by the iconic Kenny Dalglish, once again made a common front.

Manager Brendan Rodgers latched on to the case of Jermain Defoe, who avoided punishment when he bit an opponent in those days when the rules prevented retrospective justice if a match official had taken action, which in this instance involved no more than a yellow card. Most of the rest of the manager's complaint was illogical, especially in its refusal to acknowledge his player's past record in such other matters as racial abuse and crowd provocation.

Rodgers declared: "The punishment is against the man rather than the incident. We have the punishment with no intention of helping rehabilitation. He fell way below the standard set by the club at the weekend. But it does not mean he should be thrown to the garbage, which is what has happened over the last few days."

Veteran Jamie Carragher, taking his first strides as an emerging pundit, ransacked the history of Liverpool to find examples of behaviour to match that of Suarez which had not led to calls for a parting of the ways.

He came up with the punch with which Suarez's arch-critic Graeme Souness laid low a European Cup opponent, Robbie Fowler's miming of cocaine use and homophobic abuse of Graeme Le Saux, and, bizarrely enough, his own throwing of a coin into the midst of Arsenal fans.

The point? Suarez was too good a player, and essentially too good a lad, to be moved on. What he needed was not punishment but help and no matter that his transgressions had come at regular intervals since he head-butted a referee as a 15-year-old back in Uruguay.

Goalkeeper Pepe Reina also had a contribution. Suarez had paid the penalty for a being a foreigner. The extent of his ban was "absurd." Former Liverpool striker John Aldridge also had something to offer. The FA's reaction, like the general one, was over the top. Liverpool, who have until lunchtime today to decide on an appeal, have at no point suggested that they might be considering moving Suarez on – the course of action quickly followed by Ajax when the player was banned for seven matches by the Dutch FA after biting into an opponent in 2011.

The nearest thing to criticism from the managing director was the mild suggestion that the club had a need to work with Suarez to improve his discipline.

This probably means that if Suarez does leave Liverpool, possibly and hugely ironically as England's Player of the Year in voting which closed shortly before last Sunday's outrage, it will be as a result of his own anger over the ban – and his belief that a player of his undoubted ability should really be competing on the Champions League stage.

That would leave Liverpool double losers. They should turn their back on Suarez, but doing so would see a talent which they have been desperate to retain at virtually any price disappear by his own hand.

By not letting him go they will be judged by many to have retreated still further from the demands for integrity laid down so strenuously all those years ago. It is a verdict made inevitable by the most cursory inspection of Suarez's record.

A player of the most dazzling, uplifting skill and the owner of arguably the most devastating turn in the game, he is also a man plainly trapped by darker impulses. In many ways it is the most tragic paradox. Another is that Liverpool, the club with a yearning to be so strong, have been quite so weak.

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