Luis Suarez: Everybody's favourite enemy


Trouble follows some people round like a bad smell. Trouble follows Luis Suarez around like a Siamese twin.

It's catchy as well: ESPN commentator John Champion landed himself in hot water last weekend by branding Suarez's goal against Mansfield "the work of a cheat". That the handball constituted foul play isn't really up for debate - although I'm sure some avid Liverpool fans will claim otherwise. What caught the attention was the open way in which Champion called out the perpetrator rather than the mere act. ("That was the work of a cheat" is, conceptually at least, a different kind of sentence to "that was cheating." More on this later.)

Commentators, by nature (and probably by contract), stick to a gentleman's code, rarely dipping into the kind of character appraisal common in other areas of the media. It's comfortable on the fence, after all, especially when you don't have to reply to letters of complaint. So what prompted Champion, in this case, to speak up about Suarez?

Luis Suarez is everybody's favourite enemy. He's the guy that people one day decide to hate and never bother to refresh that stance. People don't even feel bad about hating him: he's the acceptable face of enmity. Intuitively, it's easy to understand why. Suarez does (and sometimes allegedly does) bad things.

But a lot of the bad things that Luis Suarez does aren't that bad (the whole Evra thing aside, clearly). They're things that other people who people don't hate do. Messi does handballs. Jermain Defoe bit someone. Someone, somewhere probably screwed Ghana out of a World Cup semi-final at some stage. People hate Suarez for doing those things because there's also something else they don't like. On some level, it's personal.

Part of what makes Suarez the subject of such antipathy is the same thing that makes him so interesting as a footballer: his inescapable otherness. His style of play, for starters, is different. The wrangled contortions of his dribbles and the head-down, attack-dog determination make defenders uneasy. But the real issue is more profound.

In a country obsessed by finding the human behind each professional athlete (look at Gazza! He's crying!), Suarez's inner landscape remains almost comically uncharted.  With his animalistic grunting, spaceman ears and stuttering English, the Uruguayan stands not only as a counterpoint to modern football's airbrushed, media managed sheen, but also, more intriguingly, as someone who has been - and continues to be - judged almost exclusively by his actions on the field of play.

Luis Suarez is goals. Luis Suarez is confused defenders. Luis Suarez is diving. Luis Suarez is handballs. Luis Suarez is biting people. Luis Suarez is accusations of racism.

Luis Suarez's problem is that people form an opinion of him merely by extrapolating from these brute observations. (Whether such extrapolation is fair or legitimate is another issue entirely. It echoes back to the "X saying something racist doesn't mean X is a racist" stance, whose argumentative force tends to be undermined by the fact that it is employed almost exclusively by people who have been accused of racism, many of whom are clearly racists.) He hasn't provided anything extra to pad out the picture; the softer edges of his personality - assuming such edges exist - remain known to but a handful of people.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course. Such a position could even be rather noble: "for better or worse, judge me for my actions in the public eye." There are two problems for Suarez, though. Firstly, that secondary, higher-order praiseworthiness would just be drowned out by the chanting about the other nefarious stuff anyway. Secondly, it's hard to imagine that Suarez has consciously chosen social martyrdom; in reality, he probably just needs a decent press officer. (Maybe Jen Chang is free these days. Oh, wait...)

We must be careful to distinguish cause and effect: the lack of transparency in Suarez is probably - at least in part - a consequence of his being in the media spotlight. It would be understandable if he felt loath to reveal himself to a nation that occasionally seems to be baying for his blood.

Perhaps, though, we're being too kind to Luis. Another source of unease is the impression that he simply doesn't understand that he does bad things. It's not just that he's unrepentant - although sometimes it definitely is that - it's that he appears incapable of perceiving anything that he should be repentant for. If someone else did that handball against Ghana, they'd probably earn back a modicum of goodwill by apologising afterwards. The moral aspect didn't even seem to register with Suarez.

This is the real problem. Suarez is not immoral but amoral. A faulty moral compass can be forgiven, but it's hard to empathise with a person who has shown precious little evidence of having one at all.



Luis Suarez is 12.00 to be booked for diving and 20.00 to be booked for handball against Manchester United on Sunday. CLICK HERE to see Unibet's special markets for the game.