The World Cup finally took a break yesterday (Friday) as the first round came to an end and it couldn’t have come at a better time. As much as I, and many others, would have wanted the group games to run on longer, my physical wellbeing probably can’t handle much more. I’ve been feeling quite sluggish throughout the day in the past two weeks and have been getting up much too late frequently. Tiredness aside, these two weeks have been a treat, with multiple games every day. I’ve stayed up till the early morning hours of 4,5 and even 6 am, I’ve gone out in the early morning to watch with friends (and walked back home at 5), and I’ve watched the early games until 2am and then waken up at 6 for the late games. For the most part, it’s been well worth the effort. The group games are all finished but the second round will start almost right away on Saturday (Sunday morning in China).
The thing about this World Cup is that it seems to have everything. Mark my words, this will be a memorable World Cup, for good and bad. Exciting football is one thing, but when a team expels two players, one for getting into a fistfight with a team official, right before a crucial must-win game, and gets its government to fly in over $3 million to Brazil to give the players directly, and this ISN’T even the biggest story, that should tell you a lot.
The biggest story concerns a certain notorious Uruguayan star who just happened to revert to old habits and bite an opponent during a game. I’m referring to Luis Suarez, one of the world’s best strikers, and the world’s best biter in football.
Suarez was jostling with an Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in front of the Italian goal in their final group game when he suddenly burrowed his head into Chiellini’s shoulder and appeared to bite him before falling to the ground covering his face as if he’d been the one fouled. The referee apparently didn’t see the transgression though Chiellini immediately started pleading for a foul, pulling down his shirt to show where he’d presumably been bitten. Chiellini isn’t exactly a shrinking violet but even he looked shocked as he ran around displaying his “wound” while another Uruguayan even tried to get him to cover up. Photos of Chiellini’s bare shoulder clearly showed redness and what looked like bite marks.
I watched the game live with some colleagues and everyone laughed when Chiellini showed off his shoulder, but it was annoying that Suarez didn’t get punished and that Uruguay went on to score soon after that incident. Luckily Chiellini’s demonstration of his “wound” led to a lot of outrage in the media and Internet and FIFA got on the case right away. To their credit, probably one of the few times FIFA deserves it, they imposed a punishment within days. Luis Suarez will be banned for 9 international games and for 4 months of football, meaning he’ll miss the first two months of the upcoming Premier League season. Suarez is also losing a personal corporate sponsorship and his club Liverpool might also be getting some heat from some of their sponsors.
I admit I don’t like Suarez. He’s a good player, perhaps an excellent one, but he has a history, putting it mildly, of doing foolish and deceitful acts. Plus he dives a lot, such as against Arsenal earlier this past season where he fell to the ground while tangling with a defender, flipped and bounced backwards right off the ground, perhaps the most comical and athletic dive I’ve even seen. I also have to say that biting is bad and Suarez’s 4-month ban is very fitting, but that other violent acts like Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong jumpkicking a Spanish opponent in the chest during the 2010 World Cup final and Manchester United’s Irish legend Roy Keane deliberately injuring an opponent with a tackle are also vile and deserve long bans (de Jong just got a yellow card while Keane was fined and banned 8 games in total).
The thing about Suarez is that this isn’t the first time he bit an opponent on the field. It’s the third, really. And biting isn’t even the only thing he’s been guilty of in football – he was involved in a racism incident where he allegedly hurled racial insults at black Frenchman Patrice Evra and was banned for eight matches. It’s not even his first World Cup controversy- four years ago in South Africa, he deflected a ball that was going into the goal intentionally using his hand against Ghana. Suarez hasn’t seemed to be fully contrite for his problems, for instance he blanked Evra for a handshake before their game after he returned from his ban.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Suarez refused to admit he bit Chiellini. Worse is that his teammates, coach and nation have defended him, even flat out coming out with absurd defenses despite the overwhelming evidence that Suarez did what he did. They have criticized England and English media especially for being biased and having a vendetta against Suarez, despite the adulation he gets at Liverpool and the sheer admiration from English fans, including one of my colleagues and friends, who ardently defended Suarez’s character in a conversation earlier this year. Uruguay’s football federation even claimed the photos of Chiellini’s neck were Photoshopped! Lots of Uruguayans including the prime minister even turned up at the airport to give Suarez a hero’s welcome when he returned from Brazil. Even Maradona has come out to defend him while Chiellini, his latest victim, actually said he felt Suarez’s ban was excessive.
I get that Uruguay is a small, plucky country which has punched far above its weight in football. Squeezed in between two continental giants and global football powers (Brazil and Argentina) and with a population of only above 3 million, Uruguay might feel like an eternal underdog with no advantages that needs to fight for everything it wants and football is one of the few outlets it does well in. Suarez is likely a major icon in his country and a role model, somebody who’s good at what he does, passionate and willing to do whatever it takes to come out on top. But in this situation, Suarez was wrong, and rather than a one-off, it was the latest in a series of troubling incidents. His country would be fooling itself if it didn’t think this was a problem. There are times in life when you feel that everybody, that the world, is against you and defiance is the only answer, but not in this case, Uruguay, not by any means.
On the other hand, this latest act by Suarez has provided joy and upliftment for many of us. By committing his blatant “crime” on the biggest football and sporting stage in the world, he became the inspiration for countless hilarious spoofs, memes and jokes. Even his own country’s McDonald’s took a light-hearted swipe at him. I mean, whatever you think about Suarez, you can never accuse him of having no appetite for the game nor being all bark and no bite.
Yet while I find Suarez to be a punk, a hypocritical bastard, and joke, I surprisingly started to feel a little sorry for him. Not because of all the blame and criticism and jokes about him, he definitely deserves that, but because of the fact he’s done so much vindictive and troubling acts throughout these years. His first bite was in 2010 and his four years since have been full of scandals. His latest incident signals a repeat offender and the possibility of a troubling and unbalanced mind. He seems to be a good family fan and he has done good things for charity so at least Suarez isn’t a goon in real life off the pitch.
Writers have tried to figure out Suarez, such as this ESPN writer who did a good feature where he went to Uruguay and tracked down information about an attack he might have done on a referee as a teenager. Yes, apparently Suarez didn’t just start getting into trouble as an adult. Suarez had a poor, rough childhood in a poor district, and football was the ideal vehicle for him to escape. Not that this excuses his incidents since many footballers have also had rough upbringings and never committed a portion of the craziness that Suarez has. The writer, who I think is American, runs into obstacles when trying to research the incident, with one person involved even claiming that Suarez didn’t headbutt the referee but “he fell accidentally into the referee.” He finds out something much more sensational- a journalist was shot after he ran a story about Suarez headbutting the referee in that youth match (the hit was arranged by the head of youth football who wanted to keep the bad news out of the press). That journalist is now blackballed for continuing to write about tough topics. Ironically, his favorite player is Luis Suarez. In the end the ESPN writer doesn’t find the referee.
Roads and Kingdoms also did a good article about Suarez and Uruguay. It looked at the history, and the racial and social dynamics of Uruguay to understand Suarez’s mindset and his racial incident with Evra.
After articles like those, I think I can understand a little more about Suarez and his “me against the world” attitude. It doesn’t excuse him but it makes it more understandable and sad. Sad that despite all he’s accomplished, all his fame and money and his country’s adulation as well as a nice family, Suarez is still beset by insecurity and rage that he will lash out like a hurt child.
I still dislike Suarez but I have to admit, he is a special character. Not many people can be a villain, hero, joke and sad figure to everyone. And I hope he gets the help he needs.