World Cup 2014: Much to chew over after latest Luis Suarez outburst

Fifa considers a ban on Uruguay’s biting striker as sponsors distance themselves from a damaged career 

Luis Suarez is in familiar territory. As the Uruguay and Liverpool striker waited to learn his fate – after cameras showed him apparently biting an opponent for the third time in his career on Tuesday night – Fifa, fans and sponsors were considering the complicated psychology of one of the world’s most talented footballers – and of the act of biting itself.

Steve Peters had flown to Brazil with England to lend his expertise as a sports psychiatrist. But as the team limped home in disgrace, Peters might have considered delaying his return. “I would think Liverpool Football Club would be on the phone to him [Peters] saying, get over to the Uruguay team right now,” says Tom Fawcett, a lecturer in sport psychology at the University of Salford.

UPDATE: Luis Suarez banned for nine matches

Peters, a key part of Team GB’s Olympic cycling success, had worked with Suarez at Liverpool, helping him come back saner after serving bans for biting, as well as racial abuse. The psychiatrist is best known for his book The Chimp Paradox, which he explains that the key to anger management is controlling the animal part of the brain – our “inner chimp”. “Liverpool have said how much he’s changed, but in difficult circumstances on a world stage, he was very much open to relapse,” added Fawcett.

The animal in Suarez spilt out as he tangled with Giorgio Chiellini in a tense qualifying match against Italy. The referee took no action after the incident, which left marks on the Italian’s left shoulder and Suarez clutching his teeth. Fifa was yesterday considering its response, which is likely to include a lengthy ban.

However, that moment may cost Suarez much more than a string of games. Gambling site 888poker opportunistically announced it was “reviewing its relationship” with the player. More seriously, Adidas was reportedly meeting to discuss the incident.

Footballers are prone to lashing out under pressure, but what goes through the mind of a player who bites? “Very little,” Fawcett said. “It was an impulsive behaviour fuelled by emotions set by circumstances. Wound up by Italy, having to win the game, under-performing, the thought of being a failure – it was a recipe for an explosive event.”

The psychology of biting is under-researched, as David Webb found when he co-authored a paper on it. Do we know any more today? “I’m afraid not,” the psychologist said. “It’s still considered a behaviour babies and toddlers exhibit as part of their development and grow out of.”

He identified types of biter: “The frustrated biter is driven by a lack of the skills necessary to cope with social situations such as the desire for attention. The threatened biter also tends to be overwhelmed by their surroundings and bites as a means of regaining control. The power biter is driven by a strong need for autonomy ....”

Statistics are scant on biting, away from the football pitch and boxing ring (“I guess any part of the body is up for eating,” Evander Holyfield, the boxer whose ear was beaten in the ring by Mike Tyson,  tweeted) but a local investigation last October suggested teeth are often used as weapons. Kent Police revealed, after a freedom of information request, that they had recorded 262 biting crimes in six months, or almost a dozen a week.

Chiellini survived relatively unscathed but despite Uruguay’s win, Suarez’s career will take longer to heal. “When teammates were celebrating, Suarez was a lone figure,” said Fawcett. “Introspective, solemn and dejected, he knew what the consequences of his ludicrous relapse would be.” 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee