The incident, in which the Uruguayan had dug his teeth into Bakkal’s shoulder, prompted Dutch outlet De Telegraaf (via The Guardian) to brand the striker the “Cannibal of Ajax,” and the Eredivisie outfit went so far as to levy their own suspension before the Royal Dutch Football Association stepped in.
Luis Suarez was nicknamed "Cannibal of Ajax" by Dutch daily De Telegraaf after biting PSV midfielder Otman Bakkal in a league match— Football Facts (@FootyFunFacts) December 3, 2013
Even so, Suarez was dismissive of his actions and wholly unapologetic in a sit-down interview with the Daily Mail shortly after arriving at Anfield, telling Matt Lawton his behaviour had been a “spur of the moment thing” and that he had “never reacted that way before.”
“It’s not in my nature to react that way,” he said at the time. “I normally try to be tranquil on the pitch.”
Either he didn’t know himself all that well—he had just turned 24—or he was attempting to hide his dark side, but clearly he had yet to come to terms with a compulsion that, once repeated and then repeated again, would seem to indicate a very troubled mind.
On Tuesday in a World Cup match against Italy, Suarez appeared to bite Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder—an allegation that, while not totally conclusive on camera, was backed up by the indents in Chiellini’s skin and Suarez's own inadvertent give-away of checking his teeth after falling to the ground.
But once again his explanation was more flippant than illuminating, although at this point his flippancy is its own illumination.
“These things happen inside the penalty area,” he told Uruguayan radio following his side’s 1-0 win, per Goal.com. “We were chest against shoulder. I also immediately suffered a blow to the eye.”
A fascinating remark, given he had checked his teeth and jaw after the incident and not his eye, as well as a peculiar understanding of the human body, given it was his face, and at no time his chest, that smacked Chiellini’s shoulder.
At this point Suarez’s statements can hardly be taken as anything but evidence against him, as the precedents he has himself set speak for themselves.
In April 2013 he was found guilty of biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a Premier League contest—an assault for which he was handed a 10-match ban by a Football Association panel that chided him for not appreciating “the seriousness” of his actions, according to the BBC.
And in December 2011 he was given an eight-match suspension for racially abusing Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra.
Other incidents, including a confrontation with Chile’s Gonzalo Jara in World Cup qualifying and a stamp on former Wigan midfielder Dave Jones were investigated but not punished. Even so, they can be seen as dots connecting a pattern of impulsive, dangerous behaviour that link the 2010 Bakkal incident with what happened on Tuesday in Natal.
“[Biting] is not planned—it’s a very spontaneous, emotional response. [Suarez] is doing it on impulse,” remarked Dr. Thomas Fawcett, a sports psychologist with the University of Salford in an interview with the BBC following the Ivanovic incident.
Suarez's history is also enough to be able to predict the likelihood of similar outbursts in the future.
“I think in five years’ time, if there was a certain nerve hit or chord rung with Suarez in a different situation, he would react in the same way,” Fawcett offered.
Stan Collymore agrees.
In a column for Bleacher Report, the former Liverpool and Aston Villa forward—who has been open and forthright with his own mental health issues—wrote “an evaluation should be made of [Suarez’s] mental health,” and the now-27-year-old “obviously has impulse-control issues.”
Collymore also revealed Liverpool had already been providing support and counselling to Suarez.
That looks like a set of teeth to me pic.twitter.com/B53AZmkKWs— Paul Campbell (@campbellwpaul) June 24, 2014
As for punishment, Suarez’s case is being investigated by FIFA and will go before the organization's Technical Study Group. Referee Marco Rodriguez did not present a booking on the play, and it will now fall to the TSG, established in 1966, to review the evidence and propose a penalty.
The TSG—which has previously handed out punishments to Arjen Robben, Wayne Rooney and Marco Materazzi—is currently made up of 13 members including former Liverpool and Lyon manager Gerard Houllier, longtime New Zealand boss Ricki Herbert and former Nigeria international Sunday Oliseh.
The panel has the power to suspend Suarez for a maximum of 24 matches, as per the Telegraph, although their stiffest penalty to date is the eight-game ban handed to Mauro Tassotti, who broke Luis Enrique’s nose in 1994.
Suarez’s bite to the shoulder of Chiellini, if sufficiently proven, will likely see him punished to the more extreme end of the TSG’s mandate. He is a repeat offender, has served 17 matches for similar assaults and is mostly dismissive of his actions.
Further mental health evaluation will almost certainly be recommended by both FIFA and Liverpool, but the forthcoming sentence can only be meted out according to Suarez’s actions on the pitch.
It seems everyone except the man himself has learned it is, indeed, in his nature “to react that way.”