Rehabilitation of Luis Suarez into Liverpool's Cantona Can Be Rodgers' Legacy
The bite marks were still forming on Branislav Ivanovic's arm as Luis Suarez's trial by Twitter got under way on Sunday.
Verdict without deliberation comes phone-in-hand to today's rush-to-publish social media world. No sooner had the first GIF proliferated than the baying mob had taken to their devices and delivered swift justice in 140 characters or less.
Most went with the bile-spitting, crowd-pleasingly obvious. Suarez should be banned and fined—heavily. Suarez should never play in England again. Liverpool should sell Suarez. Suarez is a repeat offender guilty of sullying the reputation of a proud football club.
Some went with dark comedy. A few were only half joking when they called for Suarez to get the death penalty.
The Uruguayan was already a hate figure in English football, oft accused of cheating and found guilty of racist abuse, before he bit down on Ivanovic's meaty forearm. By sinking his teeth in, he sunk his slowly recovering reputation back to the depths it crawled out after the Patrice Evra affair.
Fortunately, Liverpool have improved their disaster management protocol since then. The club moved quickly to strongly denounce Suarez's behaviour and have imposed a fine. It also seems likely they played a part in advising him to apologize to Ivanovic, both publicly and in person.
If we judge his behaviour from the moment his jaws let go, Suarez has done everything right.
I've just spoken to Ivanovic on the phone and I could apologise directly to him. Thanks for accepting.— Luis Suarez (@luis16suarez) April 21, 2013
What happens next will likely define the next chapter of Liverpool's evolution under Brendan Rodgers, the man tasked by the club's chairman Ian Ayre of masterminding Suarez's rehabilitation.
Said Ayre of Suarez, as per Liverpool's official website:
I think he felt like he let a lot of people down yesterday. We'll work with Luis—Brendan particularly—on this side of his character in his game. Hopefully that puts the matter to rest from our point of view and we'll wait and see if there's any further action from the football authorities.
Liverpool, outwardly at least, have stated their intent to keep faith in Suarez. Ayre talked of him being "everything you'd want from a striker" and "a very popular player with his teammates." He also flatly dismissed the notion Suarez might be sold this summer for fear of further staining the club's image.
It's here we turn to the comparisons with Eric Cantona, Manchester United's ultimate symbol of solidarity and a man whose redemption from attacking a fan culminated in a Double-winning season under Sir Alex Ferguson in which he was crowned Football Writers' Player of the Year.
Cantona, like Suarez, spent his time in England widely reviled outside of the loyal fans who worshipped him. Fifteen years after his retirement United fans worship him still and sing Cantona's name at home and away games.
The flawed Frenchman was a maverick genius who showed United the way forward, but nothing he achieved at Old Trafford would have been possible without the counsel of Ferguson.
It was Ferguson who nursed him through the aftermath of that incident at Selhurst Park—convincing Cantona to stick it out at United and paying regular visits to the player during his eight-month ban. Without Ferguson's attention, Cantona would almost certainly have fled the country as he had after finding trouble in France.
United fans are forever grateful he didn't.
Only have to look up the M62 and see what Fergie did with Cantona to know Suarez is worth it. Yes, HE is that good!— Joseph Barton (@Joey7Barton) April 21, 2013
Cantona took the lead for the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons and his talismanic presence helped usher in a new generation of players who would go on to continue Ferguson's dynasty. Cantona wasn't on the field when United won the Treble in 1999, but his influence continues to this day.
Can Suarez be Liverpool's Cantona?
Suarez has the talent and the (unwanted) invitation to achieve a similar legacy. Whether he has the strength of character to emerge on the other side of this and whether Rodgers can coax a reaction to his latest crisis may very well define the Liverpool manager's reign.
Rodgers knows he has a truly world-class player to build a team around. He also knows another incident of the like witnessed on Sunday would prompt Suarez's quick fire sale. It's hard to imagine he would play for the club again.
If that were to happen in September, Liverpool's season and Rodgers' ambition would be seriously undermined.
The dossier Rodgers presented to Liverpool when he interviewed for the position won't have contained a strategy for anything like this. But the way he manages Suarez's dark side from here forward will have a huge impact on whether he can achieve on his ambition for the club.
If he gets it right, Suarez may yet become Liverpool's answer to Cantona and Rodgers credited with his transformation. But if another Suarez crime is committed on Rodgers' watch, it might be the end for both of them.
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