Saturday, April 27, 2013

The FA bares its teeth

For all its obvious shock value, the sight of Luis Suarez snacking on Branislav Ivanovic’s arm like an angry beaver gnawing on a log was actually quite comical.

The fact he then wobbled and feigned heinous injury (presumably he found the Serb’s forearm not to his taste) gave the incident at Anfield last Sunday an Itchy & Scratchy-like cartoon quality. In fact, it reminded me of the closing scene of the second (and best) Pink Panther film, A Shot In The Dark, in which Herbert Lom's Dreyfus finally snaps and lunges, teeth first, for Clouseau’s ankles.

However, in its somewhat angry written explanation yesterday of the ten-match ban meted out to the fangsome Suarez, the FA's Independent Regulatory Commission made the observation: "biting an opponent is alien to football and must remain so". Well, they have a point.

No mitigation can justify Suarez's bite: the niggling between the striker and Ivanovic was no different to the forward-defender rough-and-tumble that takes place on any football field in any league and at any level. It certainly didn't warrant the incisor attack carried out by the dentally-challenged Uruguayan without referee Kevin Friend noticing it. Luckily, much of the Kop saw it, millions of television viewers around the world saw it, and therefore, retroactively, the FA saw it.

And so, Suarez will have ten matches over which to consider his temperament. A lengthy ban is the right punishment - there would have been no point slapping a fine on him. This ten does, of course, follow the seven given to him by the Dutch FA for biting PSV Eindhoven's Otman Bakkal in 2010, and the eight-game ban Suarez served for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

Strangely, though, these and other past misdemeanours were not taken into account by the Commission who, instead looked at the incident in isolation. "Whilst we accepted that Mr Suarez's reputation had been impacted," the panel explained, "these unsavoury pictures would have given a bad image of English football domestically and across the world alike."

The Commission goes on: "All players in the higher level of the game are seen as role models, have the duty to act professionally and responsibly, and set the highest example of good conduct to the rest of the game - especially to young players," and adds: "It is completely unacceptable and such truly disgraceful behaviour"..

Disappointingly, though, Liverpool has closed ranks around Suarez. First out of the trap was managing director Ian Ayre: "Both the club and player are shocked and disappointed at the severity of today's [FA] Independent Regulatory Commission decision."

Manager Brendan Rogers added complained that the FA has punished the man, not the incident  - not really sure of the distinction there, Brend - while Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher argued in his Daily Mail column: "Luis knows he has done something seriously wrong, letting himself down. The way things are now being pitched is that Liverpool have got to do something about the rotten apple in their midst. It is as if Luis is the only player to have represented Liverpool who has ever been embroiled in controversy. That simply isn't the case."

Yes...but. To Ayre's point, what were "club and player" expecting after an incident seen around the world? Did they think a standard three-match ban for violent conduct would suffice? That a lengthy list of past misdemeanours wouldn't be taken into account (even though the FA panel says it hasn't)?

Players earning reputations for being over-physical is nothing new: Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, and Ron 'Chopper' Harris were there long before, but Suarez' track record goes beyond unreconstructed thuggish behaviour. Whichever anger management counsellor gets assigned to him will have their work carved out, on a giant, open-cast quarry scale of industrial removal. He is, frankly, a nasty piece of work.

"He is an irredeemable moron," was the better assessment of the Evening Standard's Dan Jones, adding "whose talent and goals keep a very average Liverpool side afloat and brighten up the English game. If you want the talent and the goals, you have to accept the moron bit."

Accept, yes, but address when the moronic side outplays the talented side. So, for once, the FA has acted decisively and conclusively. And I don't say that just because the incident occurred in a match between Liverpool and Chelsea, and that Suarez stayed on the pitch to score a dramatic equaliser in the 97th minute. This isn't about years of rivalry between the two clubs. I'd have welcomed the same length of ban if Ivanovic had lost his head and sank his teeth into Suarez's arm like a barbecue guest with a chicken drumstick.

Thus, the FA has, in its own words sent out a "strong message that such deplorable behaviours do not have a place in football". Suarez can't keep doing thing like this, and nor can he simply move to another league to do it again. He has to learn the value of restraint. and now amount of trite apology can make up for the damage done to the reputation of the game, again.

Thankfully the Uruguayan has accepted the ban. Or someone with a good deal more intelligence has advised him to do so. Either way, while we will be bereft of his genuine talents as a forward until October, football will be able to go about its business for a few months without Luis Suarez taking centre stage - yet again - for the wrong reasons.

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