A few weeks after he arrived at Liverpool last January, Luis Suarez expressed his heartfelt wish that he would forge a reputation as something other than the cut-throat of Johannesburg and the cannibal of Ajax. He no longer wished to be the player remembered only for denying Ghana a place in the World Cup semi-finals or biting PSV Eindhoven's Otman Bakkal.
"I would love to change that impression of me," he said. Charged with issuing racist abuse of Patrice Evra when Manchester United visited Anfield in October and under investigation by the Football Association for directing an obscene gesture towards Fulham fans as he trudged from the field after Monday's 1-0 defeat at Craven Cottage: it is fair to say that hope has not turned out as planned.
Suarez, currently preparing a defence believed to be based on linguistic nuance to the allegation of racism, is expected to be told today whether he is to face a second charge in two weeks over Monday night's incident. The FA's Governance and Regulation Committee were last night examining images, taken from the ground's Putney End, which appear to show Suarez reacting to the taunts of the home fans by raising the middle finger of his left hand.
It is not certain, as yet, whether the Uruguayan will face a charge and, if so, what the offence may be deemed to have been. Punishments for similar offences have varied wildly: Birmingham's Stephen Carr was banned for one game for an obscene gesture directed at Aston Villa supporters last year, while Joey Barton was given just a £2,000 fine in 2006 for dropping his shorts to Everton fans. A host of players – including Raul Meireles and Emmanuel Frimpong – have escaped without censure for such offences, while Wayne Rooney was banned for two games this year for swearing into a television camera.
Suarez retains the full support of his club on both issues and is not likely to face any internal disciplinary measures, with his manager Kenny Dalglish suggesting in the immediate aftermath of the game that his striker should be afforded some "protection" from fans' abuse.
That has as much to do with his reputation as a feigner of receiving fouls as the incidents with Ghana, Evra or Bakkal. Indeed, it was the sustained taunts of "cheat" from Fulham's supporters which appeared to rile him into response on Monday. The frustration apparently felt by opposing fans at his theatrics, though, has not yet spread to his fellow professionals.
"It does not matter if it is diving or not, but if we feel that a foul is not a free-kick then we will tell him," said John-Arne Riise, the former Liverpool defender, now with Fulham. "He is a really good player. He just has to play his game. He is lively, it is hard to know where you have him because of his movement and because he always gets his body in the way.
"Yes, he gets frustrated [with physical challenges], but that shows his character. We have to get in hard on him and get on top of him, because if we try to be nice to him he will kill the game off, so you have to be tough. But while he gets frustrated – you could see that three or four times during the game – it goes away quickly, because he is a professional."
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