It wasn’t a bright idea on the part of Luis Suarez to tell the Argentinian media that the theatrics which drew the wrath of Stoke City’s manager, Tony Pulis, and then the staunchest defence of his man by Brendan Rodgers were a dive after all. But it was even less judicious of Rodgers to declare publicly that Suarez will be dealt with.
You could see where the Liverpool manager was coming from. He and his club want to be standing on the ethical high ground now and they’d all like to think they stand for something better. But Liverpool also stand eighth in the Premier League table, six points behind Everton, two behind West Bromwich Albion, and some time soon they are probably going to need to persuade Suarez, who should be plying his trade in the knockout stages of the Champions League, to stick around for the ride, even though it might be bumpy and take two years to reach that tournament.
Suarez will find it difficult to discern what all the fuss is about, because one of the lesser appreciated nuances of the whole Suarez diving issue is that cheating belongs to a winning component known and accepted in Uruguay as viveza criolla – a kind of Machiavellian, native cunning which is all part of the pursuit of competitive advantages. No prizes, then, for imagining how Suarez, who has publicly ascribed great significance to Liverpool sticking up for him, will feel about hearing his conduct described to the media as “unacceptable” and “wrong”.
Rodgers may be embarrassed by his striker. He, after all, was the manager whose stare virtually bore a hole in the journalist who suggested after Suarez had handled the ball into the Southampton net at Anfield that he was a cheat. But Rodgers might learn from that supremely successful, though not supremely moral, manager from down the M62.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s recent Harvard masterclass included this significant observation on public criticism of his players: “I never discuss an individual player in public. The players know that. It stays indoors.” That’s partly because he doesn’t want to give us the satisfaction and the story.
But consider what happened when the issue of diving first surfaced for Ferguson ahead of a Champions League trip to Fenerbahce, seven years ago. It was at the airport baggage carousel that the small group of accompanying journalists was told discreetly told that the manager wanted to address the issue. Ferguson then spoke generally about how a club like United would not accept individuals – naming no names – “overplaying” fouls. It was a transparent message, being telegraphed to the then 19-year-old Ronaldo, without Ferguson even naming him.
In more recent years, Ferguson has been slightly blunter about simulation. He would “have a word” with Ashley Young, he said last season. Nani had “made a meal” of things against Tottenham, he said in November. But while those players need Ferguson, Rodgers needs Suarez. In the desperate pursuit of success in football, there is no room for idealism.