What a fiasco!

The FIFA ban on Luis Suarez has been formidable. Nine international matches for Uruguay, four months completely out of football – he cannot even come near to a stadium — and a fine of GBP65,000. All too predictable, these disciplinary measures have triggered an outbreak of what the Italians call ‘vittimismo’, meaning being a victim. By Brian Glanville.

Suarez! What now? How much credence can we give to his sudden total volte face, his confession of guilt, his grovelling apology, not least to his bitten victim, Giorgio Chiellini? How does the loud mouthed President of Uruguay feel about the u-turn after a shameful public outburst, calling FIFA “a bunch of old sons of bitches”? And how do hundreds and thousands of Uruguayans, who have loudly backed their hero, feel, now that he has become a kind of penitent? Gary Lineker, who once played for Barcelona, who wants to buy Suarez, has forced him into this sudden repentance. The point surely is whether Suarez may now so unconvincingly say, there is no guarantee at all that, sooner or later, he will be biting again. What a fiasco!

Millions of words, some of them however unconvincingly from Luiz Suarez himself, have been spoken and written on the vexed subject of his bite on the Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. According to Suarez, it never was a bite at all. The FIFA ban on Suarez has been formidable. Nine international matches for Uruguay, four months completely out of football — he cannot even come near to a stadium — and a fine of GBP65,000. All too predictable, these disciplinary measures have triggered an outbreak of what the Italians call ‘vittimismo’, meaning being a victim. The very President of Uruguay, once a revolutionary, now respected as a unusually objective democrat, went to the wrong airport in Montevideo to greet Suarez on his return home — Suarez flew elsewhere — to express his deepest sympathy. Probably, he could do little else as a politician, given the huge surge of support for Suarez in Uruguay, but it looked a shoddy piece of posturing.

It seemed almost inevitable that Diego Maradona, the ultimate football victim, banned from the USA 1994 World Cup for taking ephedrine, but never in any way sanctioned for punching that shameful goal in Mexico City, against England, should join loudly and lengthily to Suarez’s defence.

The Uruguayan football Press in Brazil were loud in their denunciation of Suarez’s punishment, again all too predictably. Special obloquy has been visited not least by the Uruguayan manager Oscar Tabarez, who counter-attacked, in his own odd reckoning, “the journalists who concentrated only on one topic. And I don’t know what their nationality was but they all spoke English.” What if they did? And what now?

Suarez himself, a three-time biting offender, issued a highly debated statement in an effort to exonerate him. “I lost my balance,” he insisted, “making my body unstable and I fell on top of my opponent. At this moment, I hit my face against the player, leaving a small bruise on my cheek and strong pain in my cheek and that’s why the referee stopped the match… In no way was there any case of biting or intending to bite.” In a very old English saying, “tell that to the Marines! “ Yet in his own country Suarez was believed, even in one instance by a seemingly sophisticated journalist, whose 200 words apologia, illogical to a degree, was even published by England’s Guardian newspaper. How does he now feel?

It was even suggested in Uruguay that Suarez was unjustly punished because he had twice been sanctioned for biting before. One, when playing for Ajax of Amsterdam in Holland, again when at Anfield, he bit the Chelsea defender Ivanovic. In each of these instances he was suspended for many weeks and fined. To disregard these two offences, while deliberating on the World Cup third, would plainly have been legally and pragmatically illogical.

Yet when all is said and ultimately done, it seems to me that a vital and undeniable point is being missed. That Suarez, in doing what he did in biting Chiellini, was behaving in not only morally repugnant and vindictive way but in sheer self destruction. Had he in that shocking moment been capable of any kind of rational he must have realised that what he was doing was metaphorically suicidal. He was doing it in a World Cup match, and his offence would be seen by literally millions of viewers all around the world. The previous two biting outrages could certainly be seen on television as well, but those took place in club matches, whose television audience was minimal by comparison with that of the match in Brazil. The corollary of which is that Suarez ‘recidivism’ — repetition of an offence — is pathological. Beyond all logic any kind of self control, or any kind of awareness in that moment of the inevitable consequences. No, I am not disinterring that tired old cliché, ‘a cry for help’, but in terms of what has inevitably followed, it was surely not a moment not merely of aggression but of mindless harm.

Once bitten, twice shy is another old adage. In this case, however, twice bitten, never shy at all. In other words, a previously unrepentant and deeply unaware Suarez seems almost certain to do it again. So, what is there to be done? Beyond doubt he is a player of exceptional talent, technically supreme, a glorious finisher, very properly voted by English football journalists recently — though he seems to pay them scant regard — as their Footballer of the Year.

But alas he has, as the police put it, got form. However loving a father and a devoted husband he appears off the field, on it he is a frequent miscreant. Even before he had bitten (or as he would have it, not bitten) the unfortunate Chiellini, from his abominable behaviour in the last World Cup, in South Africa. There he punched off the line a ball, which would have given Ghana the winning goal. Then, when being sent off, he stood on the sidelines, exulting when Ghana missed the resulting penalty. Then there was the substantial suspension which he incurred for racially insulting Manchester United’s left back Patrice Evra. Not, you might think, the most pleasant of persons; how much should we rather the deluded Ukrainians be prepared to forgive him?

One is reminded of George Orwell’s memorable words in an essay called ‘Benefit of Clergy’: “If Shakespeare came back to earth and we found that his favourite occupation was raping young girls in railway carriages, we would hardly encourage him on the grounds that he might write another ‘King Lear’.”

The sad truth is, I fear, that Suarez is simply incorrigible. No blame for the Liverpool FA psychologist Peters, who accompanied the England team to Brazil and seemingly has had little contact with Suarez at Anfield. His case, alas, is far beyond the reach of a sports psychologist and perhaps any kind of psychologist. The old adage, that for a disturbed person to get better in psychological treatment he has to want to get better, suggests that Suarez, despite his confession, is beyond cure. Indeed. Sigmund Freud himself declared that a psychotic, as opposed to a neurotic, would simply not respond to therapy. Least of all, one fears, a psychotic, who has the whole of a nation behind him.

Barcelona seem at the moment not bothered by such problems. Reportedly they still want to acquire Suarez, though for a substantially less money than Liverpool are purported to be asking if he goes. Have they manipulated him? It would be simplistic to say that Suarez is a victim rather than a transgressor, yet, in one sense, a victim he surely is. Of his sad inability to control himself on the football field. When will he bite again?