If the ten-game ban that Luis Suarez received for biting Branislav Ivanovic last Sunday was badly received in Liverpool, imagine how it went down in Uruguay.
Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher had written in support of Suarez in the Daily Mail that he’d rather get bitten than have his leg broken (though his argument fell down when he accepted that rules are different when you are talking about Liverpool’s best player, citing Charles Itandje, Liverpool’s third-choice goalkeeper, who left soon after he was caught laughing and joking during a Hillsborough Memorial service).
On Thursday morning, Pepe Reina went one step further than Carragher and as good as accused the FA of xenophobia, saying: “They treat Suarez differently, because he’s Uruguayan. He knows what he did is wrong, but ten games is absurd, excessive and unfair.”
The written explanation of Suarez’s ban will be received on Thursday—the FA really do themselves no favours by allowing the story to gather momentum before explaining the reasons and Liverpool have until Friday to appeal. They run the risk of a longer ban if the appeal is deemed ‘frivolous’, and of damaging their ‘global brand’ (awful words) if the lessons of the previous Suarez saga look like they have not been learned. As for Suarez the individual, his last year of careful reputation-building has been wasted; he’s back to square one again (or behind it, in fact).
And yet in Uruguay, the reaction has been unequivocal. Suarez is a victim; the media and FA are out to get him; therefore it’s time he left England. “Surely he will leave Liverpool,” wrote El Pais on Thursday. “Suarez always wanted to stay in England despite the hostile climate and tempting offers but this time, the striker is willing to listen to his agent.” The paper added that Suarez is keeping a brave face on his latest problem, not wanting to upset his pregnant wife.
Jermain Defoe might also never have expected to be so popular in the country too: the news and chat shows have all shown his 2007 bite on Javier Mascherano, using that incident, for which Defoe was booked, as evidence of an anti-Suarez agenda.
Uruguay’s FA president Sebastian Bauza has told Suarez to stay strong: “He is suffering a lot of pressure in England, not just from today: he has suffered for so long,” Bauza said. “I think he was really wrong but I defend him as a footballer and as a person. We must to support him and help him to move on. He has to accept help, and he wants to be helped.”
A former psychologist to Uruguay’s national youth teams tried to explain Suarez’s moment of madness: “In psychology there is a rule: any act of aggression has its counterpoint in frustration,” said Gabriel Gutierrez. “The origin of these compulsive acts is not always the same, you can’t buy pills to combat them. Each athlete is different. Luis always shows a great sense of belonging and does all he can to make his team win.”
Uruguay captain Diego Lugano, writing on his website, also backed his compatriot. “A big hug to Luis at this moment, when everyone is kicking him when he’s down,” said the Malaga defender. “Anyone who plays with such adrenalin can make a mistake. Luis is the most competitive footballer of all of us. He made a mistake and apologised for it.
“Everyone can make a mistake: defenders can foul, or coaches, referees, journalists or even directors: but we all support him because we know his quality as a person every day. The people who work with him love him, respect him and protect him: that’s the most important thing in life.”
Suarez is also awaiting news on a Fifa investigation into a punch he directed at Chile’s Gonzalo Jara in a recent World Cup qualifier; he was booked in the same game and is suspended for Uruguay’s next match against Venezuela regardless. With friendlies against France and England set for early-June, in the best-case scenario Suarez will miss six weeks of action. Uruguay open their Confederations Cup campaign in Brazil against world champions Spain on June 16.
“The fact that he won’t have played for so long will hurt us,” said Uruguay’s fitness coach Jose Herrera. “Missing action for over a month, he is bound to lose some physical strength.”
A recent study by Uruguayan consultants Opcion put Diego Forlan as the most popular celebrity in the country but Suarez was not far behind (in a survey to see which player most people wanted as a friend, Suarez came third behind Forlan and Sebastien ‘El Loco’ Abreu). They love him in Uruguay and they love him in Liverpool. He will play for his country in the summer, when he will no doubt be reminded that he should leave his club.