It's been the World Cup that keeps on giving...that was until Uruguay's Luis Suarez took a bite out of it and gnawed away at the competition.
It wasn't quite a Zinedine Zidane moment, but it was against Italy and a bite, not a headbutt. They both leave indelible images that equally disgrace and puzzle on the biggest stage of all - the FIFA World Cup.
The evidence is irrefutable: in the 79th minute of a scoreless match against Italy, Suarez did what he's done twice before on a soccer field. Suarez bit his opponent. At least, that's how the vast majority see it. Sure, an argument can be made it was a headbutt gone wrong and Suarez's teeth went first into his opponent. Although, I'm not sure how believable that narrative is or what kind of methods of convincing would be necessary for one to buy that argument.
A grown man biting another human being - let that sink in. This is Mike Tyson, now times three. This time the meal was Giorgio Chiellini's left shoulder. As previously mentioned, at first glance it looked as though the Uruguayan headbutted the Italian. From Suarez sitting on the field grabbing his front teeth, to the replays showing the motion of his head to shoulder and the marks left on Chiellini's body, adjudication of the crime should be elementary. Suarez is a serial biter. Requisite action and severe punishment is required. Uruguay scored the match winner less than two minutes later, sending them through to the round of 16. All Italy has is the marks from their battle.
Suarez's disgraceful track record is as pronounced as his bite. The striker was banned seven matches by the Dutch Football Federation in 2010 after his team, Ajax, had suspended him for two matches for biting PSV Eindhoven midfielder Otman Bakkal. It was an in-your-face, lashing out kind of moment that ended in a munch. Much like Tuesday, the referee didn't see the incident and ignored the player pulling down his shirt to show the bite marks. Last April, Suarez was back at his biting ways, chomping down on the arm of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. The FA handed Suarez a 10-game suspension. Message thought to be sent.
Biting isn't where the dirty laundry list starts or ends. Suarez drew international headlines in 2011 for racial remarks made towards Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during a match. These were disgusting words from a shameful individual. Liverpool FC stood by Suarez, excusing his unbecoming behaviour simply because he was their best and most important player. A safe haven was created inside Anfield. It was a backward step by the club in an era when the game is staunchly trying to stomp out racism in the stands and on the field. The FA suspended him eight matches and levied a fine. The message not sent as Suarez refused to shake the hand of Evra before a 2012 match at Old Trafford.
Liverpool has been rewarded for their loyalty to Suarez by the player staying at the club, although threatening to leave along the way, and leading them to Champions League qualification this past season for the first time since 2009-10. Where is the motivation to punish internally when the rewards of appeasement are so great?
The lesser of Suarez's crimes against the game came at the 2010 World Cup, soiling the quarterfinal match with a game-saving handball off the goal line denying Ghana a place in the semi-final. It was a sure goal Suarez saved like a goalkeeper; afterwards excusing himself by explaining it was his sacrifice for the greater good of the country. He was sent off and suspended for the semi-final. Asamoah Gyan missed the ensuing penalty and Uruguay advanced through penalties. Call it gamesmanship if you may and there is certainly an argument to be made Suarez did the right thing. Win at all costs, correct? Perhaps. The "cheater" tag does not easily wipe away. A noted lack of integrity and poor sportsmanship continue to haunt the player. The handball at the time looked bad on the sport, yet Uruguay was rewarded. No justice.
Over the years, Suarez has been labeled a cheat, a diver, an irritator and an undesirable. He has been in locker-room spats and fan incidents. For all his talents, he is a stain on the game. Being the centre of talking points is one thing, biting and bringing the game into disrepute are other altogether.
"They're things that happen in football, but it was nothing,” explained Suarez post-match. "We're all footballers."
The fact he cannot acknowledge wrongdoing is troubling. Biting is not normal behaviour on the field or anywhere. It's primitive. It's disrespectful. This lame excuse comes from the same individual who claims he doesn't garner respect from those in the British media.
“Too many people in England laughed about my attitude,” Suarez proclaimed after his two-goal performance against England.
Character counts. He has none. Empowering and/or sheltering this individual simply make matters worse. He must continue to be exposed as the misfit he is.
Excuse-mongering has ensued by individuals, including the media, saying Suarez's actions are no worse than high, dangerous tackles in the game. Those who are saying such drivel need to understand the injustice they are doing by downplaying the moment. A blasé attitude towards Suarez biting deserves a blasé response to their work. Suarez as three-times-a-biter cannot be defended. Attempting to defend shows a lack of understanding of the sport and, even worse, the human condition. Comparing likewise inexcusable acts is an exercise of misdirection and speaks to the contrarian approach many utilize to garner attention or a reaction from their following. The industry is suffering through this: it's an infliction that comes from market competition.
“Suarez is a sneak and he gets away with it because FIFA want their stars to play in the World Cup,” said Chiellini on the bite.
In fairness, it's difficult to put this on Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez. One man on a field cannot see everything. The pressures of the moment make it understandable why he couldn't comprehend and react to what happened when a player pulls down his shirt to claim he was bitten. It's been said in this space before, two officials are needed on the field to properly officiate a game that has become too fast on a field too big with too many flashpoints. Same goes for the other controversial calls on the day: Claudio Marchisio's sending off and Greece's late penalty. These two calls will be hotly debated, rightly or not. Two referees, rather than one, have a better shot at getting it right. Four eyeballs rather than two have a better chance of catching a biter.
Chiellini does raise the point about star treatment. Simply because one can score or save, jump or run better than most should not mean preferential treatment. This will be a test for FIFA to act swiftly and appropriately. FIFA already fails to have the confidence of the consuming public. Most watch despite dysfunction and mistrust. Failing to punish Suarez would continue to perpetuate the sentiment that FIFA does as FIFA pleases. There is a public relations element to this as much as it is about throwing the book at a serial degenerate.
What is an acceptable punishment? How do your come up with a rational response to an irrational situation? No more Suarez this tournament should be a given. How about a suspension for a two-year international cycle? It sounds about right. But what changes? Many will continue to excuse his behaviour because he's really good. Suarez will continue to live in a bubble of denial. And there will be those around him like Uruguayan teammate Diego Lugano who said “You couldn't have seen (the bite) today because nothing happened.” Ignorance is bliss.
The footballing world will not ignore. Brazil 2014 has captured the imagination with the goals, the dramatics and overall exceptional play. Suarez in Natal will trump all and that's not right, nor good for those individuals the game has captivated like never before.
Suarez is not needed at this World Cup. He is not needed in football. We are worse off suffering through his petulance. The problem is, because he is an exceptional talent and can score, this petulance will be continued to be accepted as collateral to success. He will continue to be coveted. Liverpool will celebrate his play, as will his native Uruguay. The rest of the world will shudder. A villain in sports is a good thing when the venom comes from a place of competition, not shameful acts.
There will be other great players. There are others right now to be celebrated. Enough of this Suarez. We've had enough.