For a football tournament played in the good spirit and togetherness of the Olympic games, there was something sinister about the taste left in the mouth following Luis Suarez’ appearance against Team GB on Wednesday night that was played to a soundtrack of boos and barracking. Suarez is a controversial figure with an 18 month spell in the Premier League blighted by an array of incidents, most notably his sanction for a racial offence against Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, but it would take the most unforgiving of moral judgement to argue that Suarez deserves to be subjected to the kind of abuse that trivialises the setting the Uruguayan found himself in.
As well as being controversial, Suarez is also very talented of fine balance and poise, yet in the face of tribalism, it is not the skill that he is renowned for, but a misguided use of the tongue against Evra that occurred almost a year ago; words have been said, too many of them according to Liverpool’s new boss Brendan Rodgers who has urged Suarez to drop his own personal vendetta against the affair, and Suarez served his eight-game punishment. It should be all over and consigned to the history books, after all the attacker has to focus on a pivotal year for his club in an attempt to finally reward the potential he shows on a consistent basis, yet he finds himself at the mercy of a baying mob who simply refuse to move on from what is now a dull subject.
Suarez was no playing for Liverpool against Team GB at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday, nor was he playing against Evra, but the stands were still awash with the buckets of vitriol that supporters seem desperate to submerge Suarez in, it’s like a constant strife to remind Suarez of his failings and sadly, it shows no sign of stopping. It has been a long-standing hangover that will inevitably flow into the new season to provide Suarez with the nastiest of welcomes to the Premier League stadiums he visits with Liverpool. Manchester United travel to Merseyside as early as September, so, if the immature diplomatic mess at Old Trafford back in February can be used as an indicator to the new level of bitterness that the two rival clubs have now reached, expect the furore of the incident to rear its ugly head again.
As Suarez doggedly persisted against Team GB and tried in vain to beat Jack Butland, he did it to a disheartening chorus of angry words and abusive noises as the crowd won’t let him forget about an incident that should be forgotten. Rodgers wants him to abandon his pursuit of innocence through the power of mouth and focus instead on the future whe the opportunity of redemption will present itself on the pitch. But the question remains that can’t be ignored; this is surely idealistic thinking from Rodgers for how can Suarez move on from the Evra scenario if 60,000 spectators choose not to do the same?
That the Uruguayan is now attracting the same level of flak that follows him around for Liverpool when representing his country, is a sad enough reality that his team-mate for club and country Sebastian Coates pleaded with the fans after the game in Cardiff to stop the abuse in a correct opinion that they had gone too far. The feel-good factor that these Olympics have created amongst visiting fans and the public was suspended for just one night for the pleasure of just one man, and it seemed so easy for the mood to change. It is now the default reception Suarez receives, to be booed and pilloried as spectators repeatedly like to cast the South American playmaker as the villain.
But this could present another problem for Rodgers that will become more pertinent than simply forgetting the whole episode. How long will it be before Suarez moves to happier climbs where his reputation can be forged on a less hostile setting? English football loves its villains and the intimate arenas where the public is exposed to the ins and outs of the sport on a daily basis, there will be no respite for Suarez, but how long before, and there were signs of his anger on Wednesday, that it all becomes too much for the Uruguayan, forcing him to start to look for an escape route out of England in order to finally put his tainted experience behind him.
With this case, it is suggestive that partisanship and tribalism in a sport marked by territory and following can be ignorant of the wider picture. The Premier League does not want to lose a player of Suarez’ quality but that particular turn of events could be very much on the cards if it continues like this. Rodgers may get his wish in stifling Suarez’ run of verbatim about the whole situation that continues to stem, but the fans are unlikely to keep their mouths closed as well with the potential to drive a very talented player out of the league ever-burgeoning. It is illogical, and sad, that supporters now seem to subscribe to the notion of a misguided mob-mentality ahead of the appreciation of pure talent.