FIFA must bite the bullet and be tough on Suarez

FIFA must bite the bullet and be tough on Suarez

 BRAZIL - Just what goes on in the mind of a man who bites fellow footballers, not once, not twice, but three times in the space of four years?

What possesses Luis Alberto Suarez Diaz to sink his teeth so deep into Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder that it leaves a bite mark that is caught by a pitchside camera?

Why, in front of all those fans and the cameras, would someone do such a thing?

As I struggled to make sense of the World Cup's most sensational story to date, I am brought back to an e-mail I got from a well-read friend when he heard I would be off to the World Cup.

"Must read, will help you write good things about my Luis Suarez," read the e-mail from the Liverpool friend.

The piece, wonderfully written by ESPN's Wright Thompson, attempts to unearth just why Suarez, an equally wonderful footballer, has this ugly side, the one which prompts him to bite opponents, racially abuse them, and makes him a serial diver.

The author had hoped to track down the man who was Suarez's first victim on the football field - a referee who had been on the receiving end of an apparent Suarez head-butt.

The incident in 2003, when Suarez was 16 and playing for Nacional in a must-win youth match in Uruguay, was sparked after he had been given a red card.

The referee was never found. But in the journey back all those years, the picture of a man hell-bent on making a better life for himself - and refusing to let anything, anyone come in his way - emerges.

Luis Suarez was born dirt-poor. He hailed from a broken home, his mother scrubbed floors just to put food on the table. He was so poor that he could not afford to buy boots.

But football was a way out, so winning and succeeding at it became an obsession, especially when his teenaged sweetheart moved to Europe. Football would literally be his ticket out of Uruguay, out of poverty, and into her arms.

It is a touching tale, no doubt. Even more so when you consider how he had seemingly turned his life around this past year.

This time last year, he had just been banned 10 games for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic in an English Premier League match, the second time in his career he had bitten a fellow professional.

But he would end the season as the league's best player, setting new scoring records as he plundered 31 goals in 33 games. More importantly, he stayed away from controversies, no biting, no diving, no racial abuse, just great football.

Unitil now.

Like that youth game 11 years ago, Uruguay needed to win against Italy or be out of the World Cup. It was 0-0 when the incident happened, with just about 10 minutes to go in the match.

A draw would not do. He was desperate. His "win at all cost" instinct probably kicked in. So he snapped. Uruguay would go on to win 1-0.

At the World Cup four years ago, he denied Ghana a certain goal by blocking a goal-bound effort with his hands that would have sent Ghana to the semi-finals.

Uruguay went on to win that match too. It is now two teams he has helped eliminate, illegally.

And he now rightly faces a Fifa disciplinary probe. He has let his team, their fans and the game down. He was one to watch in Brazil.

Being a South American World Cup, fans here were thrilled he had been so influential for Uruguay. But he cannot keep disrespecting his fellow players.

He, of all people, should know better than to disrespect the game and bite the hand that has given him so much.

I hope he gets the book thrown at him.

Suarez needs time out to get his head fixed once and for all and realise that even when you win, you sometimes still lose.

He has let his team, their fans and the game down. Being a South American World Cup, fans here were thrilled he had been so influential for Uruguay.

This article was first published on June 26, 2014.
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