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.

Suggested Topics
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing