Biting more than he can chew

Through goals and gobbling,Suarez remains as much an enigma as a star

Written by New York Times | New York | Published: April 23, 2013 1:38:47 am

SAM BORDEN

Maybe Luis Suárez blacked out. Maybe he lost his bearings. Maybe he has always had an abiding love for the remarkable drama and character development of vampire fiction. All we can know for sure is that whatever Suárez’s motivation late in the second half Sunday,he delivered what was almost surely a stunning,and grossly unhygienic,farewell.

International soccer has many problems. Match fixing,a lack of integrated technology and murky financial restrictions immediately leap to mind as areas that could reasonably be identified as troublesome.

Biting,however – as in,“Mommy,he stole my soccer ball,so I bit him” – generally isn’t one of them.

Except,it seems,when it comes to Suárez,the mercurial Uruguayan and Liverpool striker. He had already had an unusual afternoon Sunday against Chelsea,having been called for a needless handball that led to a penalty kick for the Blues in the 57th minute of a 2-2 tie. That was tame,however,compared with his poorly disguised impression of a wolverine about 11 minutes later.

In that instance,after he and Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic got tangled up in front of the goal – the sort of clash that happens frequently between defenders and forwards – Suárez,for whatever reason,was suddenly seized by a fit of rage (or,one may presume,hunger).

The result? A biting that would have made preschoolers everywhere proud. Suárez leaned in,buried his face in Ivanovic’s arm and champed on his opponent like an angry Doberman.

“I apologize Ivanovic and all football world for my inexcusable behavior,” Suárez wrote,in part,on Twitter.

All the same,a suspension is virtually assured. After all,Suárez is a repeat offender,having been suspended for seven games by the Dutch Football Association for a malevolent munching of PSV’s Otman Bakkal in 2010. One imagines that number will be the starting point for England’s Football Association in this instance because the video evidence is all but incontrovertible and Suárez earned the nickname the Cannibal of Ajax after his previous mastication.

With Liverpool having four matches remaining,it seems likely that Suárez’s season – if not his career with the Reds – is over.

“Having reviewed the video footage and spoken to Luis,his behavior is unacceptable,and I have made him aware of this,” Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers said in a statement released by the club.

Chelsea’s manager,Rafael Benítez,begged ignorance of the incident,and the referee,Kevin Friend,and his nearest assistant also apparently missed the entire thing. Ivanovic appealed to Friend – and appeared to show him the tooth marks – but Suárez,26,went unpunished.

Suárez went on to score the tying goal just seconds before the final whistle in the seventh minute of stoppage time. Nonetheless,the immediate reaction to the biting sequence,in England and around the world,was fiery.

The match commentators mercilessly criticized Suárez. Television pundits piled on after the game,too. Fans took to social media to discuss the incident,with the conversation generally centering on one of three things. How long will Suárez be suspended? Will Liverpool want to keep Suárez on its roster? And given that Suárez can still score goals at a blistering clip when he is not snacking on opponents,what is the proper reaction for a fan whose team might look to sign Suárez?

Such questions are emblematic of the duality of Suárez’s existence: he has not exactly covered himself in glory in recent years despite being one of the world’s top strikers. His play for Uruguay at the 2010 World Cup,for example,included several important goals. But there was also a controversial play in which he intentionally handled the ball on his goal line,denying Ghana a sure goal in the quarterfinals and helping his team advance when Ghana missed the ensuing penalty kick.

That sort of questionable sportsmanship dovetailed with Suárez’s own admission of diving during games. His character was more seriously called into question when allegations of racist comments were leveled against him in 2011. Those claims,that Suárez used racist language against Manchester United’s Patrice Evra,led to an eight-match suspension.

This,obviously,is a different sort of crime,even though sports has an odd history with biting. There was Mike Tyson’s famous assault on Evander Holyfield’s ear,the 2009 incident in which Ottawa’s Jarkko Ruutu bit an opponent’s finger during an N.H.L. game,and,lest anyone forget,the 1983 N.B.A. playoff game in which Boston’s Danny Ainge was bitten by Atlanta’s Tree Rollins,which led to the memorable Boston Globe headline “Tree Bites Man.”

One can only imagine the headline writers at work in Britain. The atmosphere for the game at Anfield was charged from the beginning,with Chelsea trying to remain in the top four of the Premier League to ensure a place in the Champions League next season.

Suárez’s actions – in biting and in scoring – played a part in denying Chelsea two points in the standings that may turn out to be critical.

“I’m so sad for what happened this afternoon,” Suárez wrote on Twitter after the game,and he was hardly the only one.

It was disappointing. It was disconcerting. It was,if nothing else,wholly unsanitary. But it was also sadly predictable from a player who has always found controversy. Through goals and gobbling,Suárez has always been as much an enigma as he has been a star.

Pays price,but no charges

Liverpool fined Luis Suarez on Monday for biting an opponent,and demanded that the troublesome striker works on his disciplinary problems.

“For my unacceptable behavior yesterday,the club has fined me today,” Suarez announced on his Twitter and Facebook accounts. He wants the undisclosed sum to be donated to families affected by the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster which killed 96 Liverpool fans “for the inconvenience I have created to the Liverpool fans and to Ivanovic.”

Suarez will not face a police investigation after Ivanovic said he did not want to press charges. “He had no apparent physical injuries and did not wish to make a complaint,”Merseyside Police said in a statement.

The Professional Footballers’ Association has offered the services of counselors. “We have to work hard on anger management now. We have trained counselors in this field and we will be offering their services to Liverpool and the player to try to improve matters,” PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor said.

Sports goods giant Adidas took the rare step of speaking out against a player it sponsors to announce that it will talk to Suarez about his actions. “Adidas does not condone Luis Suarez’s behavior and we will be reminding him of the standards we expect from our players,”the company said in a statement. Reuters

Suarez follows Tyson,vice-versa

Luis Suarez has now been followed on Twitter by perhaps the only sports person more famous than him for biting an opponent. On Monday,former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson made Suarez his 432nd and most recent follow as the Uruguayan’s antics became the talk of the social network. In the second round of his 1997 heavyweight title fight with Evander Holyfield,Tyson took a piece out of Holyfield’s ear with his teeth. He was disqualified from the bout,and fined $3m plus legal costs after the incident. So while Suarez’s might be facing some serious problems with the FA,he can gain comfort from the fact that he has gained a famous follower.

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