Liverpool vs. Chelsea: Is Latest Luis Suarez Controversy Too Close to the Bone?

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistApril 21, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea talks with Luis Suarez of Liverpool as they walk in for half time during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on April 21, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Right then, where shall we start?

It is easy to go with the “we should be talking about a great game of football but Luis Suarez’s latest antics ensured that that won’t be the case” line, but instead we’ll go with something different.

We’ll start with Suarez popping up in the 97th minute (and quite why there was so much injury time only referee Kevin Friend knows) to equalise for Liverpool at the end of an Anfield match against Chelsea that brought so much emotion at the outset, so much passion during and so much hostility, moral hand-wringing and downright anger by the end.

It was his 30th goal of the season; a total that no Liverpool player has looked like getting near ever since Fernando Torres―a masked version of his former self throughout the game―was threatening defences both at home and abroad in the name of those in red.

By arriving into the box to head home a cross from the quite excellent substitute Daniel Sturridge so deep into added time, Suarez showed just what an important asset he is to Liverpool in their prolonged battle to re-join the elite both at home and abroad. And just why that fact alone presents the club with a huge problem.

In quite clearly biting the Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic on the arm some half an hour or so before his goal, Suarez crossed a line.

It was a line he had been tiptoeing around for some time, with the attempts to shove him off it from seemingly all concerned following previous incidents not putting the Uruguayan, his club and his supporters off the focus on his quality. Even after today he remains the foremost entertainer in English football, yet this day could end up representing so much more.

Suarez was wrong, so very wrong, to plant his teeth around the arm of Ivanovic. Everyone can see that.

With the head of this most complex of characters perhaps still clouded following the handball which led to Eden Hazard slotting Chelsea back in front from the penalty spot, Suarez lashed out, and an inevitable ban awaits. His season is almost certainly over.

Because he is who he is and because of what has gone on before―last season’s incident with Patrice Evra, the handball against Ghana in the first ever African World Cup, a strikingly similar moment to this in his Ajax days concerning the then PSV Eindhoven player Otman Bakkal―there will inevitably be a heated and prolonged reaction. But the key response has to come from his club.

It is easy―far, far too easy―to point fingers and reattribute blame during incidents such as this.

It is true to say that Jermain Defoe received a booking and nothing more following his bite on Javier Mascherano in 2006. It is, however, equally true to recount that Suarez was banned for seven games following that bite on Bakkal, whilst Eric Cantona―quite rightly revered as one of the greatest players ever to grace the Premier League―was initially given a two-week prison sentence for assaulting a fan in 1995. Different incidents provoke different outcomes. Suarez only seems to provoke one.

There is hysteria around the Uruguayan. That much is obvious to see.

This writer is on record claiming that the handball incident against Mansfield earlier this season produced a quite ridiculous and wrong level of reaction that amounted to a witch-hunt. This time things are different.

Suarez will be banned for this. He’ll probably be looking at an absence of seven games or so given that that was the precedent set by his biting of Bakkal just two months before Liverpool signed him, but given that Liverpool signed him knowing of such an indiscretion, what do they do now?

Talk of a sale is far too premature, far too reactionary and far too dismissive of modern football practice. Regardless of Sturridge’s fine performance in the second half of this 2-2 draw, Liverpool need Suarez more than he needs them at the moment.

The club do need to act swiftly, though.

A hefty fine, a public telling off and a complete acceptance of whatever ban the FA see fit have to be the only options.

The header which earned Liverpool a point here is likely to be the last contribution that Suarez makes to the club’s season.

Whether it is his last ever for the Reds remains to be seen, but you could say that he’s clinging on to his future by the skin of his teeth.

His reputation, and that of his club, depends on how he responds from this.