There was plenty of interesting football news to come out of the last round of Premier League action. Manchester United sealed the title on Monday, while Tottenham Hotspur’s superb win over Manchester City at the weekend added extra spice to the battle for Champions League qualification.
But you could be forgiven for thinking none of that had ever occurred, given the ubiquitous coverage given to a certain incident that took place during an otherwise excellent contest between Liverpool and Chelsea on Sunday afternoon.
Luis Suarez’s unfathomable decision to sink his teeth into Branislav Ivanovic’s arm has ruled the back pages and sports channels this week, with the already infamous Uruguayan copping a 10-match suspension from the Football Association. The Reds had already fined their star striker, with manager Brendan Rodgers even hinting that this latest in a disturbing list of indiscretions could be the final straw.
And yet Rodgers was quick to question the severity of the FA’s verdict, suggesting that the governing body had ruled “against the man rather than the incident” and should review its judiciary process. Reds goalkeeper Pepe Reina also came out in defence of his team-mate, saying the sanctions were “absurd, out of proportion and unfair” and that “a different yardstick” had been used in Suarez’s case.
The first thing to note is that these claims are entirely reasonable. In 2006, Chester City’s Sean Hessey received a comparatively light five-game ban for biting an opponent, while Spurs striker Jermain Defoe escaped punishment altogether after having a nibble at Javier Mascherano (then of West Ham United).
More worrying are Rodgers’ remarks regarding the perceived lack of impartiality and transparency surrounding the sentence. The Northern Irishman is surely not alone in wondering how an ‘independent panel’ can be expected to make a calculated, unbiased decision when everyone up to and including the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is calling for Suarez’s head.
The threat of corruption in football is ever-present at every level, and the greatest pains must be taken to ensure that every aspect of the game is governed cleanly. Among many other things, that means making certain that enquiries into all incidents – on and off the pitch – are undertaken within the strictest of guidelines in a sterile environment, so to speak.
So when the FA openly declared that Suarez’s ban must be longer than three games, they polluted the case. They corrupted it. How is a panel supposed to follow procedure and find a neutral verdict when the men in charge have effectively told it what outcome they require?The kicker is that, as it stands, the procedure is severely flawed. It is entirely possible – likely, even – that Suarez would never have received an appropriate punishment had the ruling not been subject to external pressures and a brief glance at his low-light reel.
In other codes around the world, players’ disciplinary records are openly taken into account when reviewing instances of match day misconduct – thus, repeat offenders are usually punished more severely than those with clean slates.
So should the fact that Suarez has one of the worst track records in the game, including a previous biting charge, be entirely ignored when investigating such a glaring case of on-field violence? Of course not – it is highly relevant information regarding his overall conduct as a professional footballer. In criminal court, it would be called ‘Exhibit A’.
Liverpool may be completely right about discrimination and precedent, but it shouldn’t change much. The Defoe case, for one, should be used less as a defence for Suarez and more as an argument against the FA’s judiciary system as a whole. Rodgers and co must accept the situation and focus instead on how they are to proceed with the loose cannon that currently wears the number seven shirt.