As the final whistle blew at Natal’s Estadio das Dunas, Uruaguay striker Luis Suárez stood alone in the centre circle. As his team-mates celebrated the 1-0 victory which had ensured their progress to the last 16 of the World Cup Finals at the expense of Italy, the Liverpool striker suspected his own tournament would end in customary controversy.
Suárez, 27, surely expected disciplinary action would follow the second half altercation where he had bitten the shoulder of Italian central defender Giorgio Chiellini. A watching worldwide audience of millions stood aghast, social media went into melt-down. The 4 month ban from all football related activity, and 9 match international suspension that followed, ended Suárez’s World Cup campaign and represents the longest ban in the tournament history; surpassing Italian Mauro Tassotti’s 8 match suspension for elbowing Spain’s Luis Enrique in 1994.
Whilst injury was not as permanent or painful to Chiellini as a head-butt, elbow to the face or high tackle; biting carries a similar stigma to spitting and is seen as a dirty tactic, far beyond the pale of acceptable sporting contact. Even in the brawl of the boxing ring, biting is seen as barbaric and far from the actions of a sane sportsman; as Evander Holyfield found out when he entered the ring with Mike Tyson in 1997 only to lose a chunk of his ear. Luis Suárez has now been found guilty of biting three opponents in a career not short of controversy.
Luis Suárez’s “previous”:
July 2010: Sent-off for deliberately handling the ball on the line denying Ghana a last-minute extra time winner in the World Cup quarter-finals. Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty, before Uruguay won the resulting shoot-out to reach the semi-finals.
November 2010: The then Ajax striker receives a 7 match ban for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal’s shoulder.
December 2011: 8 match suspension and £40,000 fine for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.
February 2012: Refuses to shake Evra’s hand at Old Trafford and is labelled a “disgrace” by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
April 2013: Receives 10-game ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic.
After a stellar season at club level which saw him awarded the PFA’s Footballer of the Year accolade, many fans had hoped Suárez had learned from previous misdemeanors and was now a changed man. His one-legged demolition of England 4 days earlier showed his undeniable talent and confirmed he did not require any unsporting advantage. It’s hard to understand what Suárez hoped to achieve through his actions. Was he, as his subsequent play-acting suggested; seeking to trigger a violent reaction from Chiellini in an attempt to win a penalty and see Italy reduced to 10 men? Surely having served suspensions for previous canine convictions, the Uruguayan didn’t think he was going to escape without some form of retrospective punishment?
Uruguay, with a population of just 3.4m is the smallest nation at this year’s tournament. There is a feeling that to punch above their weight, occasionally, they must punch low. Reaction to the incident in Suárez’s homeland has been supportive, and clearly taking a leaf from Sepp Blatter and FIFA’s book; the media in Montevideo have suggested the storm was part of conspiracy concocted by the English media. Uruguay coach Óscar Tabárez was vociferous in his support and revealed a win at all costs mentality: “This is a World Cup. This is not about cheap morality.” That support has been echoed by his club side Liverpool, who like Uruguay; recognise Luis Suárez to be one of the game’s great strikers and a player whose absence will be sorely missed.
FIFA’s retrospective action comes too late for Giorgio Chiellini and Italy who exited the competition and can feel aggrieved that action wasn’t taken at the time of the incident. With scores level at 0-0, dismissal for Suárez would have given the Azzurri a numerical advantage. However Diego Godín’s 81st minute header spelled the end of the 2006 champions’ hopes of a 5th world title in Brazil. The incident has prompted further calls for technology to be used to aid match-officials.
Whilst FIFA deny it, there are claims that video technology has been used to aid at least one live high-profile decision. In the 2006 World Cup Final in Berlin, French captain Zinedine Zidane was sent-off following an off the ball confrontation with Italian defender Marco Materazzi. Argentine Referee Horacio Elizondo did not appear to have seen the head-butt to the chest hundreds of millions would soon see via video replay. FIFA maintain that Spanish fourth official Luis Medina Cantalejo informed Elizondo of the incident through his headset. French manager Raymond Domenech was not convinced and accused the officials of acting on the strength of pictures relayed to a pitch-side screen, which would have broken the game’s rules. FIFA insists that Cantalejo did not breach any code of conduct and acted properly, yet Italian coach Marcello Lippi suggested an alternative version of events claiming that the referee had reached for his red-card after receiving advice from “the fourth and fifth officials looking at the video at the edge of the pitch”.
The introduction of goal-line technology, after high-profile events at the 2010 tournament, has proved successful due to the fact the system used is quick and does not interfere with the flow of the game. Instant, accurate goal or no-goal decisions are made in seconds relieving match-officials of the embarrassment which had befallen them in previous years. FIFA president Sepp Blatter signaled his support for technology to be further trialed and explored as he announced his intention to remain in office.
Commentators have called the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, “the Social Media World Cup” as players, pundits, fans and officials have all embraced smart technology to share views of the action. The very same technology which allows short video clips, or “Vines” to be shared within seconds of an incident, shows that with some finesse, video replay technology could help aid refereeing decisions. With further advances and so-called “wearable technology” no longer the stuff of science fiction, video replays may have a more timely impact on the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Although Luis Suárez may like to blame the English media for his suspension; he must take responsibility for his own actions, and whilst technology may aid future refereeing decisions providing swift justice and retribution; the big question remains if footballers and officials were perfect what would we have left to talk about?