Monday 19 March 2018

Striker says sorry at last as Anfield criticised over handling of affair

Ian Herbert

Luis Suarez last night issued a public apology for using the word "negro" during the match against Manchester United, as Liverpool provided the first indication that they might have better handled a case which has left the club's reputation badly tarnished.

The Uruguayan, who has started an eight-game ban after his conviction by an FA-appointed independent regulatory commission, did not refer to Patrice Evra -- to whom the offending word was directed at Anfield -- by name in his apology and he insisted that he had said the word once, not seven times, as the commission found.

But the first sign of contrition is a significant one from Liverpool, who also now intend to seek discussions with the FA about a disciplinary procedure which they believe to be deeply flawed. The club are likely first to approach FA chairman David Bernstein to seek dialogue on how the system might be changed and to push for an inquiry. Though they do not appear to have reached firm conclusions about the systemic changes required, they are likely to suggest a far greater burden of proof to convict a player of using a reference to another's ethnic origin in an abusive way -- as Suarez did.

The evidence used to convict Suarez was circumstantial and would not have led to his conviction in a criminal court.

Liverpool may also suggest that the FA should not select the members of a commission which rules in such cases. They are not appealing against the commission's decision as they do not believe a second hearing would overturn the conclusions of the first.

Though Kenny Dalglish remains indignant, the apology is certainly an important first stage in repairing relations with the FA, which the manager has accused of systematic bias, claiming evidence had been deliberately withheld from the commission's final report.

Suarez said: "I admitted to the commission that I said a word in Spanish once and only once and I told the panel members that I will not use it again on any football pitch in England. I never, ever, used this word in a derogatory way and if it offends anyone then I want to apologise for that."

Despite Dalglish's suggestion on Tuesday night of malign omissions from the 115-page report -- "we know what has gone on; we know what is not in the report," he claimed -- there does not appear to be a killer fact in Suarez's defence which has been omitted. It is the piecemeal omission and inadmissibility of evidence which has led Liverpool to sense injustice.

The report alludes, in passing, to how United's Mexican striker Javier Hernandez "admitted that terms such as negrito can be used with close friends in certain terms without it being offensive".

Liverpool say that evidence was dismissed as irrelevant by the commission. The club claim that Evra viewed film footage of his clash with Suarez when he provided his evidence to the commission, though Suarez did not have such an aid, to his own detriment.

Questions are surfacing at Anfield about just how well Liverpool have actually pursued their legal case. They employed their own linguistics experts, who were not subsequently presented as witnesses, and appeared to face an uphill task when the commission decided it would rule on whether Suarez's language was insulting, regardless of whether the player intended it to be abusive or not.

But there is also a growing belief that the club made a fundamental mistake in offering what proved to be flawed evidence in the first hour after Evra's accusation.

Dalglish enlisted director of football Damien Comolli to speak to Suarez and pass on to referee Andre Marriner the way in which the striker had used the word "negro". This contradicted later versions that Suarez offered, leading Liverpool to reflect that a more streetwise club would have said nothing without lawyers on hand.

Manchester United certainly have the benefit of experience. A regulatory commission's attack on the quality of the club's evidence when they accused Chelsea groundstaff of racism in 2008 may have led manager Alex Ferguson to appreciate the importance of taking a contemporaneous note in such cases.

It was Ferguson who asked Marriner to take one, when he approached him with the complaint in the referees' room at Anfield.

There is also a growing acceptance that a less naive approach might have led the club to conclude very early on that, with the use of the word "negro" immediately putting Suarez at risk of a heavy ban, they should seek conciliation on his behalf and advise an immediate, discreet apology for any offence caused. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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