Sport Soccer

Saturday 21 April 2018

Change of scenery looks right therapy for now

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

If Luis Suarez stays at Anfield beyond this summer, his hopes of playing European football next season rest on back-door qualification into the Europa League via the Fair Play league. He is said to be considering his future in England due to events of the past week, but his mind should have been made up before now.

Because of the swift response by the FA to last weekend's incident, the conversation has moved on from whether Suarez can change his behaviour to whether Suarez will change clubs. Brendan Rodgers said he would fully understand if he chose to quit Liverpool and English football. I am of the same opinion, not due to the severity of the ban, but because Liverpool is no longer the place to be if you are one of the game's finest strikers, particularly if you are world-renowned for your desire to win.

If it wasn't for his actions last weekend, Suarez could still have finished up as the Premier League's top scorer. He is on the shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year award to be named this evening. Because of his reputation, he was always unlikely to win but his accomplishments on the pitch meant he couldn't be ignored.

He has done many incredibly good things for Liverpool this year but the club's high point was a home win over Spurs in March, which remains their only league victory over a team in the top six. Their FA Cup campaign ended in the fourth round at Oldham Athletic, and at no point did a top-four finish look realistic. Brendan Rodgers can talk of persecution and victimisation all he likes, but he can't blame David Cameron or the FA for any of that.

Convincing the public that Suarez is the victim in all of this is one thing, but Rodgers needs to ensure Suarez is not of the same opinion. If he is, it may be only a matter of time until he re-offends. Having bitten an opponent for the second time in 18 months, Suarez is obviously in need of professional help. This is not an issue that can be resolved by a fine, a lecture, a ban or a warning. It will take a lot more than advice or encouragement from team-mates and friends.

Liverpool employ a sports psychiatrist who is available to work with the players on a weekly basis, but he can do nothing if Suarez does not fully engage. For meaningful behavioural change to occur, a desire to change is essential. There must be no doubt in his mind of the need to better control his temper, but in this regard, he may be getting mixed messages.

"He's not let me down one bit" was an odd comment for Brendan Rodgers to make. He then praised Suarez for his tireless efforts to adapt to English culture. In defending him in this way, Rodgers may be in danger of shifting Suarez's focus away from his own destructive behaviour.

Among his many gripes, Rodgers complained the FA did not take on a more active role in helping to rehabilitate Suarez. He would have preferred the ruling to incorporate a suspended sentence to encourage good behaviour. He also questioned the integrity of the independent panel by suggesting it had been influenced by external figures. Even after Suarez had chosen not to appeal the ban on Friday, Rodgers chose to speak out about his disappointment in how it was handled.

But this isn't about cultural differences or institutional prejudice. This is about the inability of one man to effectively manage his emotions, and the work needed to address that must begin immediately. According to the report released on Friday by the independent panel, Suarez failed to grasp the "gravity and seriousness" of his offence. Rodgers said they are committed to helping him improve his conduct but unless Suarez is fully engaged in that process, nothing will change. In saying that, convincing one of the most sought-after players in Europe that his behaviour is holding him back may be trickier than you'd think.

But it's no longer about the absurdity of his actions or the expertise of the club's sports psychiatrist. The issue now is whether he will remain at Liverpool beyond the summer or opt to play in the Champions League. Juventus and Bayern Munich were just two of the clubs believed to be interested in signing Suarez. They are clubs competing at the level every world-class player wants to play at and you'd almost think less of Suarez if he stayed where he was for another year.

Suarez may be willing to embrace change, but it may not be the kind that Liverpool are ready to accept.

Irish Independent

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