England and Uruguay aim to get their FIFA World Cup campaigns back on the rails tonight in the Arena Corinthians. According to the Guardian Luis Suarez hopes to use his insider knowledge of the English game to exploit the “defensive weaknesses” that he believes are apparent.
Since his arrival at Liverpool there has been a penchant for casting Suarez as a pantomime villain and tonight, to the English at least, he is the bad guy again. A Suarez free bet is available for those that believe he will revel in the role.
His misdemeanours are well documented. There are the plain bizarre: twice being disciplined for biting opponents during play. There are the accusations of cheating: whether by being particularly “light on his feet” or his handball which denied Ghana a goal in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
And there is also, of course, the still-to-be exorcised spectre of the distasteful racism episode involving Patrice Evra.
ESPN recently produced an almost perfect piece of sports writing recently in the shape of an article by Wright Thompson on Suarez. I say almost because, in my opinion, while the piece is superbly written and exhaustive in its investigate work—and was rightly lauded—it does tend to gloss over the Evra incident as if it was just something that the English press got into a lather about. No matter which cultural context Suarez thought the words that he uttered were being used in, he knew instantly that they caused great offence to Evra. And he continued to use them.
And yet despite its inert tribalism, Football has an amazing knack of offering up opportunities for redemption and rehabilitation. Suarez completed his ban and worked incredibly hard to showcase everything that is good about him as a footballer last season. He carried Liverpool to within a whisker of the English Premier League title and walked away with the Player of the Year awards.
To my mind, the matter was neither satisfactorily explained nor apologised for by the Liverpool forward and one often wonders about a society where we are happy to give so many chances to those who repeatedly let themselves down seemingly just because of their prowess on a football field. However, if Patrice Evra himself can move on—and he reportedly did, having cast his vote for Suarez as the Player’s Player of the Year—we can only do the same and hope that Suarez learned valuable lessons.
At the age of 15, Suarez was drifting and even then his disciplinary record left a lot to be desired. His talent was obvious but he admitted in an interview for the book Vamos Que Vamos that he was a rebel and didn’t like to train. He credits the turnaround in his fortunes to the moment that he met his future wife Sofia, who was a steadying influence on him.
The story goes that when she moved with her family to live in Barcelona, he was driven to force his way into Nacional’s first team with the long-term aim of securing a move to European football. At the age of 18 he moved to Holland.
Suarez has jumped many hurdles on his journey—a lot of them have been of his own making. His standing in world football and the insider knowledge he possesses on the English raise slight echoes of Cristiano Ronaldo and “wink-gate.” They offer an interesting sideshow to the main event.
The World Cup has already been shorn of some of the biggest stars of the game whether that be through non-qualification (e.g. Zlatan Ibramhimovic, Gareth Bale) or injury (e.g. Radamel Falcao, Kevin Strootman, Marco Reus).
From a neutral, footballing perspective, the sight of Luis Suarez on the Uruguay bench for the match against Costa Rica, only weeks after undergoing surgery, was a boon. That he was saved for the match against England was no surprise.