Saturday 18 November 2017

Passion play of the outsiders leads to inevitable crucifixion

Dion Fanning

Kenny Dalglish's decision to deliver what was, in effect, a PowerPoint presentation to the media last week underlines how seriously Liverpool view the treatment of Luis Suarez.

Dalglish thinks of the press the way Keith Richards would look on One Direction: he knows there's a point to them but he's not very sure what it is.

So for Dalglish to sit down with newspapermen last Thursday and run through a DVD of the fouls committed on Luis Suarez at Craven Cottage and the behaviour of his players in comparison to Fulham's was an act of ecumenical openness.

Dalglish has offered unequivocal backing to Suarez, even when it has seemed uncomfortable and perhaps unwise, namely in the Patrice Evra case, but last week in a matter where he is on much surer ground, he took on those who feel outrage must be compensated.

A few years ago, Javier Mascherano was sent off at Old Trafford, essentially for not reading the Daily Mail. If he had, he would have been aware that the FA were running a campaign to respect match officials and, for the one weekend they ran it, it went very well and resulted in the sending off of Javier Mascherano.

Mascherano seemed ignorant of the climate because he hadn't been reading the paper. Suarez is clearly aware of it, as it is a micro-climate surrounding him.

For all its admirable qualities, English football remains certain that it has something to teach a type of foreign player who plays with swagger and that thing they say they want but never like it when they get it: passion.

Suarez is viewed by the football establishment the way the denizens of Surbiton view illegal immigrants who they feel are denying them some abstract right. They are so convinced their values are being contaminated that their fury is all the more righteous.

Of course, Suarez plays with the charge that he racially abused Evra hanging over him. If this is proved, there are many who will rightly feel he has run out of road. Suarez's defence is believed to be subtle in a world which has no room for subtlety, in a world in which people must be all good or all bad.

His defence may not be the truth. Evra also believes he has been wronged and worse, but until that is decided Suarez is now encountering those who portray themselves as protectors of the integrity of the game. These are not solely referees, although referees seem to have decided that ignoring whatever fouls are committed on Suarez is the simplest way of dealing with the matter.

His opponents, too, have been allowed to set themselves up as moral guardians. In fact, some of them have turned morality to their own advantage, just as everything, sooner or later, gets exploited on a football field. Suarez knows this game, as he plays it too, but the referees' job is to make the correct calls, not assume the man making them is cheating.

Players used to kick the ball out of play so an injured player could receive treatment; now a player feigns injury knowing that play will be stopped and his team will not be attacked when they're unbalanced.

Whenever Suarez goes down, players now stand over him accusing him of diving. There were those who once saw this as an act of good authority. But it is now as likely to be an act of gamesmanship in itself, an attempt to influence a referee into believing that the man they are going to spend the game kicking cannot be trusted.

Suarez is the latest victim of the attempt to impose shrill middle-class values on a game which is not based on shrill middle-class values, certainly not when Luis Suarez is playing it.

Wayne Rooney suffered when he was banned for celebrating a goal through the medium of swearing and now Suarez is finding that there is a prim world trying to assert itself in English football.

Dalglish questioned the FA's appeal of Rooney's suspension last week and also said there was no comparison between Rooney's ban for swearing at Upton Park and Suarez's charge -- "that's like saying a man is a bit like a woman."

Rooney was protected in Nyon because England needs him but he is as alien to the corporate class as Suarez or Eric Cantona. David Moyes once described Rooney as "the last of the street footballers" and English football looks determined to rid the game of footballers who come from certain streets, whether they're in Croxteth or Montevideo.

But Suarez allows them outrage uncluttered by human conflicts like self-interest. The sins of the game can be dumped on him; he is just the latest in the long line of foreigners who dive outrageously, an act never committed by English players like Joe Cole, Michael Owen or Steven Gerrard.

The FA should charge themselves with disrepute after deciding that a man raising his finger to supporters who have booed him should be taken seriously. They have lost their nerve as they respond to the outraged constituencies that demand action immediately if the game and the country isn't going to sink into irreversible decline. The race to be the most sanctimonious was easily won by the BBC website which decided that a picture of a middle finger extended was too much for anyone to see so they pixelated it.

Dalglish feels Liverpool are suffering and he's right. When Jay Spearing was rightly sent off last Monday, a number of Liverpool players surrounded the referee and Liverpool were then charged with failing to control their players. Given that other clubs protest more vociferously over a throw-in, it's easy to understand Dalglish's point.

On Monday, Liverpool had six players on the pitch who only joined the club in the last year. They had no outfield player who had the stature of a Liverpool player -- there was no Gerrard or Carragher to direct the referee in a certain way or shape an agenda. Craig Bellamy is a man of character but he is not a natural diplomat.

If Dalglish had wanted to, he could have added a soundtrack of Ray Wilkins' commentary on Sky to his presentation on Thursday.

Wilkins analysed Suarez's fouls, remarking after Brede Hangeland had elbowed him and shoved him to the ground that it was "almost obstruction if anything, nothing else -- there's a slight obstruction but I don't see why that's a foul."

Suarez now inhabits a world in which he is almost obstructed but never fouled and he is nearly always penalised. In the end, he reacted and he is now in the unfortunate position of being backed by Neil Warnock. People always kick you when you're down.

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