How Luis Suarez Has Shed His Bad Reputation One Year from the Ivanovic Bite

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How Luis Suarez Has Shed His Bad Reputation One Year from the Ivanovic Bite
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He may not be aware of it, but Luis Suarez holds many similarities to Cheryl Cole.

In 2003, when reality TV pop group Girls Aloud were fully embedded in the national consciousness, Cole (then Tweedy) was accused of racially aggravated assault of a toilet attendant in a nightclub.

She earned a bad reputation from the incident, and her perception among right-thinking individuals wasn't helped when she married fellow social pariah Ashley Cole.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

But then, the Public Relations Machine swung into action. Through several months and years of slick media handling and carefully chosen public engagements, Cole worked her way towards a burgeoning solo career and an influential stint as a reality TV judge.

She evolved from the Geordie who has drunken fights in nightclubs to "the nation's sweetheart."

We are witnessing a similar transformation in Luis Suarez. One year ago today, the Uruguayan bit Branislav Ivanovic during Liverpool's 2-2 draw with Chelsea, the second time he had committed such an offence on the field. He earned a 10-match ban for the disgraceful behaviour and became public enemy No. 1.

Suarez had already served an eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra in 2011 and was known as a villain worldwide for the deliberate handball that helped his country eliminate Ghana from the 2010 World Cup.

A few months before the Ivanovic bite, Suarez had no qualms admitting that he cheats in games but simultaneously took a swipe at the media for using his name to sell papers.

As Liverpool's Champions League dream ebbed away at the end of the 2012-13 season, Suarez then used the very same media he had criticised to attempt to engineer a move away from Anfield so he could get the Champions League football he deserved (at that time, no one expected the Reds to be a serious title contender the following season!).

As recently as August last year, Suarez was perceived as a cheat, an (alleged) racist, a mercenary and a hypocrite. Many Liverpool fans I spoke with were embarrassed to have him wear the famous red strip. He had to be sold for the greater good!

But what a difference a few months can make. As was the case with the nation's sweetheart, Suarez underwent a PR blitz to alter his image.

In December 2013, Suarez was awarded the Football Supporters' Federation (FSF) Player of the Year Award at the Emirates Stadium. While there, he chatted openly with journalists and flashed his smile like a politician on the campaign trail.

He started giving interviews in English—something he had never really bothered to do in the past—which showed a willingness to "play the game" with the media he once openly despised. He even granted an English interview with a 10-year-old fan on Liverpool's YouTube channel, in which he sat cross-legged while sipping yerba mate at a tea party. How very quaint and agreeable.

In the same month as his FSF award, stories of Suarez's wholesome character started appearing, such as this very short article about a £10,000 charity donation. 

More recently, we have been reminded what a nice guy Suarez is, with news of him playing football in the park with a youngster with Down's syndrome making headlines.  

It's almost as if Suarez has undergone media training, while his public relations team have carefully placed stories in the press to alter the general public's perception. It's a concept that's just about cynical enough to be true.

Of course, Suarez's perceived change in behaviour off the field has been perfectly complemented by his incredible form on it. Despite being banned for the first five games of the season, Suarez has become one of only six Premier League players to reach 30 goals in a single season (and two of those played when the league had 22 teams). 

Thanks to a combination of his talent and a more positive media portrayal, world football has effectively been trained to forget about the more abhorrent aspects of his personality.

As a testament to how far Suarez has come, it has been revealed that Patrice Evra—the man whom the Uruguayan was found guilty of racially abusing three years ago—has voted for him to become PFA Player of the Year.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

As Cheryl Cole once discovered, it really is amazing what raw talent and a good PR team team can do in a very short amount of time. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @RyanJayBailey

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