Luis Suarez was given a 10-game ban to send out a clear message and because the Liverpool striker had not appreciated how repellent his biting of Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic had been.
When providing Liverpool with written reasons for the length of the punishment that will see the Uruguayan suspended until October, the Football Association’s independent panel said: “Luis Suarez had not fully appreciated the gravity and the seriousness of this truly exceptional incident because he believed a three-game ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic was sufficient.”
The three-man panel added that the punishment, which Liverpool did not appeal, was designed to send out “a strong message that such deplorable behaviours do not have a place in football”.
The panel, which included the former Ipswich and Arsenal midfielder Brian Talbot, said comparable incidents were Eden Hazard’s kicking of a ball boy during Chelsea’s Capital One Cup semi-final with Swansea and Ashley Barnes of Brighton tripping a referee at Bolton in March. This, the commission said, was worse than either, though Suarez’s previous disciplinary history was not considered.
“It was shocking, unexpected and truly exceptional,” the report said. “It is our duty to discourage any players at any level from acting in such a deplorable manner. Within a few hours of the match the incident was headline news around the country and the top trend on Twitter worldwide.”
This is not the first time that an FA commission has taken a dim view of Suarez’s attitude to a charge. When in December 2011 he was banned for eight matches for racially abusing the Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, the commission highlighted his “unreliable and inconsistent evidence” as a reason for its verdict.
However, if Suarez did not appreciate the gravity of his behaviour in the immediate aftermath, the statement he issued yesterday was deeply contrite. With the Prime Minister, David Cameron, arguing he had “set the most appalling example” and his manager, Brendan Rodgers, warning that he could never be considered a great player unless he changed his ways, Suarez appealed for understanding.
“I am truly very sorry about the incident with Branislav Ivanovic,” he said. “I hope that all the people who I have offended at Anfield last Sunday will grant me forgiveness.
“I decided to accept the ban because whilst 10 games is clearly greater than those bans given out in past cases where players have actually been seriously hurt, I acknowledge my actions were not acceptable on a football pitch so I do not want to give the wrong impression to people by making an appeal.
“I really want to learn from what has happened. In the last two-and-a-half years many things have been said and written about me. I just tried to do my best on the field. I hope to come back early to play.”
Suarez won support from unexpected quarters. Sir Alex Ferguson compared the incident to the 10-month suspension given to Eric Cantona for assaulting a spectator at Crystal Palace in January 1995. The Manchester United manager said he understood why Liverpool had not imposed their own sanction on Suarez because United, having themselves suspended Cantona for six months, saw the FA increase it to 10. Ferguson then, like Rodgers now, blamed the influence of the media for the severity of the sentence.
In Suarez’s native Uruguay, stretching the laws of the game to win an advantage is called picardia. In Rodgers’ native Northern Ireland, they are called “rascals”. “They are rascals but there is a lot of good in those players as well,” said the Liverpool manager. “Everyone is not perfect. If you have a squad of perfect players, you might not have that quality to go on and win. The one thing I will say is that you can never be called a great player when your behaviour is like that. Great players won’t behave like that.”