Luis Suarez bite: Still no cure for the inner chimp that mars the Liverpool genius
After a decade of scrapes beginning when he was a teenager in Uruguay, the demons that haunt Luis Suarez remain to the fore and need careful management
It was an observation which sounds rather unfortunate in the here and now. Luis Suarez was trying to articulate how the pressure he imposes on himself can be such a problem when, in an interview with The Independent at the start of this season, he explained that “it does things to you that you can’t imagine. It can make you eat more, eat less and I have gone into games feeling it so much that afterwards you think to yourself, ‘Why was I so wound up?’”
Eat more? That sounds like another of those #suarezhungry jokes that were doing the rounds of Twitter yesterday – Nando’s quickly cooked up an advert for its flame-grilled chickens which read “Suarez, still hungry? Uvanachick” – but at the heart of the observation lay the story of an individual with a capacity to make himself ill with pressure. “You have to want it so much” Suarez added, telling us about other Uruguayan stars of the 2007 Under-20 World Cup like Freddy Adu and Giovani dos Santos, whose careers have not gone as well as expected.
It is understood that Suarez’s Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, will strongly encourage the player to begin working with Dr Steve Peters, the elite sport psychologist whose services the manager has enlisted one day a week. If Suarez adheres to that request – and Peters told The Independent last month that it must not be a forced process – then you imagine the 26-year-old presents a transparent case to work on.
Peters expounds in his best-selling mind-management manual The Chimp Paradox how the brain comprises a rational “human” part and an emotional, rash “chimp” component, with the key to happiness and success being management of the inner chimp – the carrier of fear, emotion, compulsion and irrational thought and action. The part of you which will always want to jump to an immediate opinion, see things in black and white, act irrationally.
Biting defenders does not feature in the volume but managing the chimp, and so allowing you to make the logical decisions on the field of play, rather than be “bullied” by raw emotion, seems something of the right order for Suarez.
Suarez even seems to see the chimp at work in himself. After his first bite, on PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal, in November 2010, delivered after his own foot had been stamped on three or four times, he articulated how he felt he was operating outside of himself in the heat of battle. “In those moments, your heartbeat is very high and sometimes you don’t think about what you are doing…”
The interaction of the two mindsets in one individual helps to explain the remarkable contrast between the individual we saw on Sunday and the one whom you will find floating around Melwood, drinking South American Mate tea through the silver tube Uruguayans know as a bombilla – and playing Monopoly at home with Lucas Leiva and their wives. The question for Liverpool is whether this individual really is capable of redemption.
Suarez puts the unhealthy will to win down to his childhood, seeking a life beyond Salto, a rather beautiful city near Uruguay’s border with Argentina. “People ask, ‘How can you let a defeat hurt you so much?’ But it comes back to the effort you have put into your career as a youngster,” he told us in August. “I suffered a lot to get here and to not take advantage of every minute of every game hurts me.”
This caused his Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez – Mr Tabarez, as Suarez calls him – the same trouble that afflicts Rodgers now. “Luis, calm down or we will have to take you off, you help no one when you are like this,” Tabarez told him at half-time during one Copa America tie against Argentina.
It was ever thus. Daniel Enriquez, the technical director of Suarez’s first club, Montevideo side Nacional, has described how in one game, when Suarez was still 15, he apparently lost his temper with a referee and butted him. “The referee had a broken nose and was bleeding like a cow,” Enriquez was quoted as saying of the incident. “We punished Luis heavily and told him it was the end.”
Managers these days delve into players’ pasts for signs of how they will fare and, though Suarez often tells of playing barefoot football before leaving for Montevideo, it was not a life of penury, bereft of positive influences. “We were not poor but we were certainly not rich either,” he has said of that time.
It was the supreme and immediately apparent self-confidence in Suarez that persuaded the Dutch club Groningen to pay Nacional a record club fee for him on the basis of a 15-minute display of football, after representatives had travelled 11,000 miles from the northern Netherlands to Montevideo to view a list of players which did not even include him.
“We were so convinced by his personality and his playing qualities,” said Henk Veldmate, the Groningen technical manager who decided to buy him. “It was clear that the boy had an air of self-confidence,” observed Jan Mennega, a journalist who was at the press conference where the 19-year-old Suarez was presented. “He always looked people directly in the eye.” Suarez was popular – adored – there, but in Groningen, as in Ajax, it was the struggle to control him in his dark moments which weighed against the brilliance. “Luis is unpredictable, he’s hard to influence, but that makes him special,” said Marco van Basten, who handled him at Ajax.
Uruguay yesterday lacked the sense of outrage that England is feeling about Suarez. “Nobody told you, you cannot bite opponents? Elbows, pushing, spitting are all bad but biting?” says El Mundo, the angriest newspaper. Suarez’s rapid apology and punishment made you wonder whether this individual could really be the same one as the demon we have seen on the field. That’s what football has been asking since he was a 15-year-old. A decade as a professional and counting, but still no cure for the demons which can so quickly devour him.
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