April 21, 2013 at 7:41 pm

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Suarez?

suarez-evraWhen Luis Suarez was accused of racially abusing Patrice Evra on the pitch, I was one of the few Liverpool fans who didn’t defend him. The arguments have all been made before, and I have no intention of dragging them up again, but one point I will make is that I was far more disappointed with the club’s handling of the situation than I was with Suarez, whose words were in the heat of the moment and ultimately the result of ignorance. The club should have had the time, intelligence and resources to do a lot better.

The T-shirts were an absolute disgrace, drawing criticism even from some of Suarez’s fiercest defenders, and the lack of nuanced PR made Liverpool look like a dithering outfit stuck in the past. This time, the club should handle things differently.

Suarez’ latest horror-show has already led to some lazy, knee-jerk moralising from fans who didn’t seem all that bothered when we signed Suarez just after he was banned for seven games for biting a player in Holland, and calling for Suarez to be sold is the moral equivalent of busing thieves to another town.

Instead, I think Liverpool can come out of this looking intelligent, progressive and capable, and they can also hold on to their best player.

First, as Manchester United did with Cantona (another player who already had a bad reputation, but who ended up staying with United) the club should ban Suarez even before the FA have chance to punish him, saying biting is totally unacceptable on or off the football pitch.  It’s likely the FA would still take action themselves, but showing that we don’t overlook unacceptable behaviour purely because a player is ours might encourage them to be more lenient.

Secondly, we should say that selling him on does not solve his psychological problems, and that we are committed to helping players with issues. While flogging him would wash our own hands of the problem, it doesn’t actually address it. If we instead acknowledged that the player has a problem, and make it clear that, as an employee of the club, we are committed to helping the player deal with it, we will look intelligent, progressive and responsible.

Lastly, the club should tell Suarez that not only to prolong his time with us, but also to save his career and to enrich his life, he needs to undergo therapy, or at the very least anger management. Luis Suarez is a very well-paid professional who, judging by all accounts, is a calm, nice man off the pitch. But to have done this for a second time suggests he has some underlying issues he needs to resolve, even if they don’t manifest themselves anywhere else but the football pitch.

This isn’t just a football issue, but one for Luis Suarez as a person. It’s one he needs to overcome, not only because it would be a great shame if his immense talent were wasted. We as Liverpool fans are no more able to defend his biting than opponents are able to defend against him. For Luis Suarez is a brilliant footballer, and an equally troubled young man.

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