Monday 11 December 2017

Dion Fanning: Cartoon villain Suarez avoids capture by refusing to not be himself

Dion Fanning

When Luis Suarez encounters Robin van Persie at Old Trafford today, it will be hard not to think of Jack Nicholson's Joker dancing with Kim Basinger in Batman. "Beauty and the beast," Jack's Joker says as he spins her round. "Of course, if anyone else calls you a beast I'll rip their lungs out."

Last week Suarez faced more calls to perform an act of redemption even though he clearly didn't feel he was in need of redeeming. He was beautiful as he was.

Robin van Persie has scored 16 Premier League goals this season. Luis Suarez has scored 15. Both have been suggested as candidates for Footballer of the Year. Luis Suarez won't win. The Joker can't win. Batman or, in this case, Robin will.

Van Persie has glided through the season. He has made the preposterous seem prosaic. His comment that he was joining Manchester United because the "the little boy inside" was screaming for it becomes less ludicrous by the week.

There may still be cries of abuse from the betrayed Arsenal fans but they are becoming fainter, like the villains in Superman, spinning away into infinity.

Van Persie has obeyed the little boy inside and he has made sense of Manchester United's seemingly bizarre decision to surrender midfield and overload with forwards.

Van Persie's legacy may be a further abandoning of sense in the transfer market. When your side needs a midfielder, why not make your most substantial signing in four years a forward who is touching 30 and has been troubled by injury for most of his career? Van Persie's genius has been to make all this seem logical.

If Van Persie is a classical footballer who finds time and space where they don't exist, Suarez defies some other football logic: he is one of the few circus footballers who can play.

Suarez seeks out the most crowded areas on the field, going down blind alleys where he should be mugged. Instead he emerges unscathed, with those who tried to stop him left behind in pain and bleak contemplation.

Only those without a soul felt no compassion when he entered the field at Mansfield last Sunday. Mansfield had done so much and now they would have to endure the particular cruelty which is his talent and his desire to win.

As the recession took hold, Stefan Szymanski, the co-author of Soccernomics, predicted there would be no curtailing of wages and players' behaviour to reflect these harder times. Instead, he said, the opposite would happen. Players would become richer and they would enter a cartoonish parallel universe. There would be cartoon bad guys and cartoon good guys, but mainly cartoon bad guys.

Suarez has not just captured this zeitgeist, he is holding it for ransom and sending its severed fingers in the post to distraught family members.

He has had a curious effect on the English football community. Perhaps they remember Ratin from 1966 and remain wary of the South American footballer.

They are eager for Suarez to change and understand what is "required from a player in England". Suarez instead tries to do what is required of a player in the professional game.

There has also been some confusion over the Premier League. Because it takes place in England, there is the understandable assumption that it is English when it is a multi-cultural event taking place within that land merely for reasons of convenience.

At best, it is an English colony, an alien land which they are trying to tame. Suarez is like a character from a David Lean film, mysterious and unknowable, a trait even more pronounced because those most angered by him don't know much at the best of times.

The players have become the caricatures Szymanski predicted but the reactions to them remain rooted in what Conrad Black would call 'bourgeois priggishness'.

If they could serve an ASBO on Suarez, they would. The world will see a DC Comics villain when he walks out at Old Trafford today.

Some of this will be justified. Last year's fixtures between these two teams were scarred by the incident at Anfield between Patrice Evra and Suarez and the subsequent failure of Suarez to shake Evra's hand at Old Trafford. Suarez's image is affected by more than just that. He is seen as the worst of all possible things this season: a diver.

Just as some anti-communism in America in the 1920s and '30s was a cover for anti-Semitism, so the most rabid elements of the anti-diving campaign use it as a proxy for xenophobia. Foreigners, we are told by so many, are responsible for the plague and while English football stamps down on racism, it continues to tolerate this prejudice.

Moral outrage works best with a common enemy and this enemy is so despised, this sickness so debilitating that nobody minds when sweeping generalisations are made. When English football is howling, Suarez is their nemesis, the Joker prowling through Gotham City terrifying the citizens. England has observed zero tolerance on racism but xenophobia continues to receive a pass.

Suarez, with his own suspension for racist abuse, is a person many don't feel like defending with good reason.

Even in that matter, most people still insist he called Evra 'negro'. Suarez and Evra were speaking Spanish and Suarez racially abused him using the word 'black'. Suarez's behaviour and some of the actions defending it were wrong and destructive but the fact that the language he was speaking is so often ignored is telling in itself.

He is seen as one of the trailblazers for diving when, in fact, he dives a lot but dives very badly.

Suarez is shameless which may be a useful quality to have as a human being but it's a useless trait to have if you want to cheat.

Damien Comolli warned that Suarez could be driven out of Liverpool by the vilification. That would seem out of character. He first penetrated the wider consciousness by celebrating inappropriately when Ghana missed a penalty, a gracelessness compounded by the fact that his handball had stopped Ghana scoring in the first place. At that moment, he did not seem like a man who would be deflected from his aims by suburban morality.

From biting an opponent in Holland to the many, many events of his career in England, he has remained true to the impression he gave in Soccer City.

He is more likely to be driven out of Liverpool by the mediocrity. He wants the same things as Van Persie, even if the little boy inside Luis Suarez is a pest.

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