In A Suarez Blame Game, There Are Only Losers

As Oscar Tabarez again leaps to the defence of Luis Suarez, Daniel Storey wonders why talent allows for morality to be skewed. It doesn't help the player or the game...

Last Updated: 28/06/14 at 12:30 Post Comment

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When listening to the words of Oscar Tabarez to assembled journalists late on Friday evening to protest against Luis Suarez's treatment, a gradual anger built up inside at the behaviour on display. As coach of the Uruguay national team, Tabarez is in a position of great authority and responsibility - he had sold out his principles in a performance of wilful blindness in support of his player.

Tabarez had plenty of blame to go around. FIFA, Giorgio Chiellini and the English media were all apportioned guilt in the alleged "scapegoating" of Suarez. This is the same English media that voted the striker FWA Player of the Year. There was a brief admission of guilt on Suarez's part, but this was easily lost in the stream of propaganda.

Of course, the coach's bullish stance is perfectly transparent. This is an individual looking to create a siege mentality within his squad for the remainder of this tournament, whilst also leaning on FIFA to reduce Suarez's ban on appeal, thus greatly improving Uruguay's chances in the Copa America next summer. The round of applause Tabarez received from members of the Uruguayan press indicates just how entrenched this sense of unity is within a country desperate to defend its star man.

However, there is a difference between 'defending' and 'protecting'. Because, whilst such displays of bravado may be self-serving for Tabarez and Uruguay, they spectacularly undermine the more pertinent issue at hand.

Whatever the coach's views, the underlying fact is that Suarez is a repeat offender. There is a German proverb which reads 'Once is never, twice is always' - fail to weed out the issue at source and it will only become further engrained within the individual.

Suarez has now bitten three different opponents over a period of four years - a lengthy period of punishment was the only realistic sentence. His whole life has been sculpted around football - it is hoped that such an extended time away from his passion will finally teach him that his actions are unacceptable. This is intended to be an exercise in forcing lessons to be learnt.

The reason that Suarez has so far failed to learn such a lesson is that, until now, he has not had to. After biting Otman Bakkal in November 2010 he was banned for seven matches, but within two months had joined Liverpool for £22.7million and a significantly higher wage. After being found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra he was initially backed by a club prepared to wear t-shirts to back their man, something then Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish later admitted regret over.

Last season, despite being banned for biting Branislav Ivanovic, Suarez was still given eventual hero status by Liverpool, whilst national journalists wrote of his 'redemption'. Now, Oscar Tabarez has taken an identical route, avoiding exploration and scrutiny of Suarez's character through the 'all guns blazing' defence.

"It's sad for Suarez who, after the Branislav Ivanovic incident, won the hearts of everybody in United Kingdom with the way he played," were the ill-advised words of Alan Hansen in response to this latest ban, unwise words that actually reveal a great deal, because the pundit's view is by no means isolated.

Football's inflated importance in our society has led to a bizarre status quo in which goals seem to matter more than (or are at least equitable with) morality. Greater quality allows for an easier short-cut to forgiveness without repentance.

Clubs are equally prepared to allow such a state of affairs to fester. Chelsea sacked youth player Jacob Mellis in March 2012 after a prank in which he set off a smoke grenade at the training ground - would the club have sacked captain John Terry for the same prank? I think we all know the evident answer to that - talent outweighs decency as currency.

For clubs, perhaps, their stance is clouded somewhat by the economic value of the most talented. 'Quality = Money = Survival And Progress' is the rather unromantic equation, but it is clear that such a thought process exists. A potential transfer fee of £80 million forces Liverpool's commercial interests to overshadow any debate regarding morality, as sad as that may seem.

For supporters however, a more interesting moral quandary is raised. Whilst there will be many Liverpool fans happy to see the back of a player with such a chequered past, there certainly exists an element of 'he scores goals so we don't care'. As one F365 commenter proclaimed this week: 'I don't care if he kills an orphan, so long as he is scoring goals for Liverpool'. We pray it was typed with tongue stuck firmly in cheek.

Fans are the only cohort within football that could credibly reason that it is 'just a game' - to clubs, associations, sponsors and players this is now so obviously business - and therefore allow decency and morality to impact on our judgement. Yet it is this element, the supporters, that have most allowed a tribal mentality to eclipse all other, permitting a moral stance to be shifted so readily by the hope of success.

Furthermore, whilst defending Suarez to the hilt paints the game in a particularly negative light, it also fails to help the player either.

There seems little doubt that Suarez is suffering from some degree of mental disorder. That's certainly the opinion of Dr. Richard Ginsburg, a clinical psychologist who believes that the Uruguayan suffers from an inability to control his impulses, exposed in the supercharged context of a meaningful football match.

With a damaged and difficult childhood, football has been Suarez's escape. It means so much that he has allowed it to overcome his own concepts of right and wrong when in the most intense of situations. That's a view backed up by sports psychologist Dr Thomas Fawcett. "It's not pre-planned - it's a very spontaneous, emotional response. He's doing it on impulse." That would suggest that, unless treated, Suarez is likely to repeat such incidents, emphasising that principle of 'once is never, twice is always'.

A large element of punishment is to instigate rehabilitation. The assumption made is that individuals are not permanently 'bad' and therefore education and therapy, alongside punitive measures, combine to restore an individual to a more balanced state of mind. Helping Suarez to more effectively control his impulses is key, but in continuing to propagandise the myth that his player has somehow been "scapegoated", Oscar Tabarez is allowing Suarez's victim complex to be further ensconced.

The reason that Suarez has not been reformed following his previous transgressions is that his talent has allowed him to bypass the necessary stages for rehabilitation - he has not changed because he has never had to. The time for such short-cuts must now end if there is to be any lasting hope of change in character.

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