Well, it just had to be, didn’t it?
Before Liverpool’s trip to Old Trafford, a first in more than a year, there was so much to look forward to. Would Liverpool take their recent good form against Manchester United to them? Would we see a much-awaited front four of Andy Carroll, Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Craig Bellamy? And of course, would we finally see the end to the seemingly ubiquitous and never-ending Suarez-Evra quarrel?
With Liverpool taking nothing back to Anfield, there is so much to write about. Kenny Dalglish’s preference for Jordan Henderson over Charlie Adam, and his curious insistence on using Stewart Downing (my take on both cases: absolutely inexplicable, indefensible and ridiculous). Jay Spearing’s inability to cope at the highest level. The depressing and infuriating lack of fight shown from Dalglish’s charges after going two-nil down so soon in the second half.
But it just had to be Luis Suarez who came away with all the unwanted headlines, didn’t it?
With his petulant snub of a pre-match handshake with Patrice Evra, Luis Suarez has made his position at Liverpool Football Club untenable.
Maybe he had a point to make, to show the English media, to show Evra that he really felt wrongly accused by the outcome of the case.
But he chose the entirely wrong way to do it.
Of course, we all recognize that Evra is not a saint himself. The transcript of the case proved this already. And his enthusiastic celebrations after the final whistle in front of Suarez and all around the stadium, trying to take home the plaudits in an emotional game, did not sit well even with his manager. Of course, we also all know that Sir Alex Ferguson is naturally inclined to bias towards United players, that he often is the issuer of hypocritical comments.
But does that mean Liverpool have to take this road in addressing this issue? Can Liverpool not detach themselves from unsavory comparisons and look at how they have reacted from an ideological and moral standpoint?
What happened to being the better man? A professional? Did Suarez have to be so short-sighted in failing to see the big picture? In case he still doesn’t know what the big picture is: it’s the issue of racism in (English) football. No, Luis, the case is not whether or not you feel personally aggrieved about it. It’s also no longer about the language issue. It’s about stamping out racism in English football. Liverpool went their painstaking ways to show their support for him throughout the case, and have come under intense scrutiny and criticism for doing so, and this was the occasion to finally put everything to bed, to settle everything once and for all.
Except Suarez didn’t realize this.
Nobody is saying that a pre-match handshake takes away all the underlying hard feelings, but this was different from the suggestion that got Sepp Blatter into such hot water. In this case, as much as Suarez and Liverpool have attempted to portray themselves as the victim of unfair judgment and a biased punishment, circumstances dictate that Patrice Evra was the victim of racial abuse. At face value, if anything, Evra should have been the one entitled to refusing the handshake, not Suarez.
In what has already been a contentious and emotional affair, continuing to play victim is not going to help Liverpool in the short or the long run.
But most importantly, while Liverpool have had their reasons to support Suarez so wholeheartedly throughout this debacle, Suarez has let even them down.
Perhaps, as a matter of principle, Suarez didn’t want to and was never going to shake Evra’s hand in the first place.
But to override Dalglish’s pre-match comments that Suarez had moved on, that he would shake Evra’s hand, was immature, irresponsible and embarrassing, not to mention a PR disaster. What is Dalglish going to do now that his star player has undermined his authority and his confident claims that this episode is over? Does he make his authority known to Suarez, that this type of public aggravation and this openly undermining of Dalglish is unacceptable? Or does he continue to play the “I didn’t see it” game and act like nothing happened?
Football, at the end of the day, is a game, a show of entertainment for fans who pay to enjoy an event. Is it worth it to make yourself such a polarizing figure just to prove your point? Suarez’s years of experience in world and European football should have been more than enough to teach him that football is as much political as it is tribal, but sadly, he seems to have missed the memo.
Meanwhile, Suarez himself is quickly becoming one of the most unpopular figures in English football. He might bafflingly still maintain his status as a Kop hero after Saturday’s match, but at what cost?
EDIT: Suarez has apparently apologized for his handshake snub on Saturday, and the Liverpool hierarchy have expressed their disappointment towards his actions. But while this represents a good start, the underlying issues will still linger for a while yet.