Luis Suarez bite: Has striker harmed Liverpool’s name one too many times?

Owner Henry may feel it is time to sell despite Suarez’s huge talent

The Merseyside radio phone-ins were clogged. The hushed talk on the morning train commutes were similar.

In the shops and restaurants of Liverpool One by lunchtime, the conversation was almost exclusive: Luis Suarez and his teeth. Why did he use them (again)? How long will he be banned for? How does this influence Brendan Rodgers’ short and long-term plans at Anfield? At workplaces, the whiff of uncertainty could be inhaled all day long as if it were a lingering putrid odour.

UPDATE: Luis Suarez banned for nine matches
Read more: Suarez denies bite, says Chiellini bumped into his shoulder
Suarez tried to bite Chiellini last year

At Melwood, although tours continued, the steel shutters at the front of the complex were locked. Rodgers met chief executive, Ian Ayre, and the pair discussed what to do next before taking a trans-Atlantic conference call with owner John W Henry. Other telephone conversations took place between Ayre, Roberto Pastoriza of the Uruguayan Football Association and Pere Guardiola, Suarez’s agent.

Nothing initially was said publicly. It will soon be all theirs but for now this act of astonishing stupidity was someone else’s problem.

The club’s sponsor, Standard Chartered, the banking firm that had previously registered their displeasure at Suarez’s last indiscretion when he bore into Branislav Ivanovic’s arm 14 months ago, were the first to release a statement. “Given the ongoing investigation, this is currently a matter for Fifa,” it read. Depending on their findings, Liverpool might decide to ban Suarez independently. Rodgers’s faith in the player has been undermined again.

Triumphantly, there were declarations on social media that it is likely to enhance the chances of Suarez driving his black Land Rover with tinted windows into Melwood as expected during the first week of August rather than through the gates of Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training facility or that of Barcelona’s in Sant Joan Despi.

They reason that one of the most significant causes of Jose Mourinho’s removal from power in Madrid was the harmful effect he had on the club’s reputation. Barcelona – indeed – were regularly criticised by Mourinho for projecting an even more pious public image, supposedly leading to favouritism amongst the game’s governing bodies.

Why would such distinguished institutions want to pay so much money for Suarez, an armour-plated spinning top – a player who in less than four years has been found guilty of making racist comments to another player, has bitten another professional before doing it again and again, missing 25 games in total through suspension  (so far) – nearly three quarters of an entire league season? Mourinho was forced out and the most reverend Barcelona would not go near him, surely. Brand management rules.

It is not just in Liverpool, though, where Suarez is viewed as an unquestionably brilliant player in an era where the game is short of unquestionably brilliant players and plenty of average ones who are paid too much money for delivering very little, as England fans will testify. Suarez’s fans will excuse him for being brilliant and his enemies demand extreme punishment for the same reason. If this were Charles Itandje or El-Hadji Diouf, indeed, there would be greater analytical unison.

 

Speak to those who have followed Suarez’s progress from an early age in Uruguay and there is a deep-rooted sense of omerta as soon as you mention his past indiscretions. They are the moody forensic team that clears up the mess of the gangsters in the movies. A code of honour exists where you do not talk about incidents like the one where Suarez allegedly head-butted a referee as a teenager. Privately, they will mention how Suarez escaped from one of Montevideo’s toughest neighbourhoods having challenged those who teased the size of his teeth by making the bullies regret it, using them as a tool of harm. They describe it as a defence mechanism, one which he still reverts to.

On talent alone Suarez merits a showcase where it is possible for his career to be marked by trophies and medals as well as personal accolades. He was certainly too good for Liverpool when he first signed and he probably remains so now despite the team’s spectacular emergence last season.

Yet Suarez now faces a long international ban and possibly a club one. He is now in a position where, at best, he is considered untrustworthy and at worst unemployable.

When it happened last time, Liverpool were on the verge of finishing seventh at the end of Rodgers’ first season in charge. They needed him to stay. Now in the Champions League without having to participate in qualification rounds, their position is a lot stronger.

Owner Henry will ultimately make the decision whether Suarez stays or goes. Before sanctioning any sale he will review both the sporting and financial implications. Henry could feel there are only so many times a club’s name can be “dragged through the mud,” as Robbie Fowler described it on Tuesday. Maybe he will consider Suarez not worth the indulgence anymore.

He will recognise, too, that many of Liverpool’s supporters will potentially be disappointed but having sanctioned the deal to sell Fernando Torres on the same day as Suarez’s arrival in 2011 he will appreciate that no player is irreplaceable. And what if Suarez does it again? The calls for a lifetime ban might be too audible to not consider for the authorities.

Most realistically, perhaps, Henry will know that Liverpool were able to sign Suarez in the first place because they were the only buyers in a market wary of his dubious history, and they were prepared to pay above Ajax’s asking price considering their weak position out of Europe’s elite. Ajax had grown tired of clearing up his mess and appreciated any further problems would reduce his value after the first nibble on Otman Bakkal. It was time to end the relationship. Henry might think similarly, providing there are suitable offers.

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