Before this weekend they were both contenders. After a season in which their respective teams had suffered contrasting fortunes, Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie were unified in goal-scoring excellence.
Coming into the last five games of this Premiership season, two goals separated the pair. Suarez, two ahead on 23 held the upper hand, while Van Persie, after a recent barren run in the league, languished two behind on 21.
With a swing of a boot and a clamp of a jaw, that all changed.
It all started on Sunday, when the fireworks promised by a day colloquially known as "Super Sunday," exploded in spectacular fashion.
A typically late rally by the indomitable Gareth Bale and his Tottenham Hotspur side were enough to defeat Manchester City, 3-1, and in so doing end this season as a contest. The result, after Spurs had fallen one behind, meant that Manchester United simply had to win one of their last five games to be crowned Champions for an unparalleled 20th time.
Yet the day’s headline, sadly, was as incongruous to football as we have seen. Completely negating another one-man rescue operation with a piece of idiocy straight out of the zoo, Luis Suarez plumbed depths few knew possible.
Irked by some overzealous marking by the colossal Branislav Ivanovic, Suarez decided, in his infinite wisdom, that the best antidote was to bite the Chelsea defender on the arm. It almost defied belief, but sadly it is not the first time Suarez has got hungry on the pitch.
When playing for Ajax in what turned out to be his last game in 2011, Suarez turned to his teeth again, clamping down on PSV midfielder Otman Bakkal’s shoulder while standing two meters away from the referee (The Guardian). The Uruguayan was banned for seven games for his indiscretion, and was promptly shipped off to Liverpool in a £16 million deal.
Suarez is an outstanding player, quite rightly lauded in the pantheons of the finest practitioners of the modern game. When he performs to his potential he is almost unplayable, as this season, his finest in England, has proven.
Yet, petulant, flagrant and usually unrepentant (why would he keep doing it otherwise?), Suarez incessantly courts the headlines. Excellence mitigated by lunacy, his glut of critical goals and unbelievable performances have been allied against a series of completely nonsensical indiscretions.
When just 15 years old, Suarez was dismissed from a junior academy game for head-butting the referee. At the 2010 World Cup, Suarez’s blatant handball on the line robbed Ghana of a clear goal and subsequently a place in their first World Cup final.
At Liverpool, his bad-boy reputation was enhanced.
His first brush with the law came after reacting to chants from Fulham fans with a highly inappropriate gesture, for which he was banned for a game. After a confrontation with Patrice Evra, Suarez was accused of racism by the Manchester United defender. The charge, which Suarez initially denied, was upheld and the striker was banned for eight games. When he returned, Suarez decided to publicly snub Evra’s handshake, prolonging the bad blood between the men.
This season, in tandem with his outstanding play, Suarez has gained a reputation for histrionics. After scoring in the Merseyside derby, he reacted to accusations of diving by David Moyes by throwing himself to the ground in front of the Everton manager while celebrating a goal.
For some people, like former Liverpool player Graeme Souness, the latest misdemeanour, rather than simply crossing the line, has bitten right through it.
Suarez has officially been charged by the FA for his actions, and is almost certain to miss the end of the season. While his Liverpool future is probably not in jeopardy, the prospective duo of individual awards (PFA Player of the Year and the Golden Boot) are as good as gone.
Suarez’s actions meant that Manchester United’s game against Aston Villa on Monday was rather less hyped than might have been anticipated. Maybe there was an air of inevitability, maybe it was the huge point differential, but Luis Suarez had certainly caused a distraction.
The match was a procession as three goals in just over half an hour sent Old Trafford into party mode. The triumvirate all delivered with Robin Van Persie’s oh-so-sweet left foot (worthy of a highlight reel), with the second a shoe in for "Goal of the Season."
Watching a sumptuous Wayne Rooney pass over his shoulder, Van Persie watched the ball onto his foot, arching his body and hitting it sweetly on the volley from 25 yards. It flew past Villa keeper Brad Guzan and nestled in the net to shock and awe.
Sir Alex Ferguson, speaking about the goal in the aftermath to the game, called it the “goal of the century. (via The Guardian)”
"He's been unbelievable.” Ferguson said, “I think that he has to take a lot of the credit. I think his goals tell you that, his performance levels told you that. But I'm sure Robin would be saying what a great bunch of players he's had with him.”
Robin van Persie has now laid claim to his inaugural Premier League title. Surely now the only contender for his second consecutive Golden Boot, it seems that individual honours are also imminent.
Meanwhile, Luis Suarez is facing an extended leave of absence from our football pitches after hunger got the better of him.
There is no real discrepancy in the duo’s ability. Both are supremely gifted individuals that would benefit any team in the world. Yet we live and die by our decisions. When things were not going his way, Van Persie knuckled down and is now reaping the rewards. Suarez, who was in better form than Van Persie compromised himself and his club with a display of scarcely believable infantile petulance.
One chose to fight for his form, while the other just took a bite.
What a difference a week makes.
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