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Monday, March 12, 2012

THE SUÁREZ & EVRA AFFAIR - THE LAST WORD

Many column inches have been filled, much hot-air has been released and much bile spilled forth over the whole business concerning Liverpool's Luis Suárez and Manchester United player Patrice Evra since that incident at Old Trafford when the teams met there in a Premier League match last October. Suárez, of course, received an eight-match ban from the FA for using "racist language" against Evra when he called his French opponent a "negro."

Once, according to Suárez. At least ten times, Evra claimed in a post-match interview with Canal+. Five times, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson told match referee Andre Marriner. Seven times, said the FA when handing down the ban to the Uruguayan.

Anyway, after much hoo-hah from all concerned in the time between the incident and Suárez's day of judgement at FA HQ just before Christmas, the Liverpool player settled down and partook of his enforced rest period, augmented by a one-match ban for what the tabloids would (rather hypocritically) call "making an obscene gesture", in other words, giving the middle-finger, to Fulham fans a few weeks after the game at Old Trafford. United, not to mention a large percentage of their supporters, felt smug.

No need to go in to detail once again about all the other shenanigans that went on between mid-October and the Yuletide period; they, the report and the sentencing have already been covered in earlier entries on this blog ("Luis Suárez - Banned And Fined, But Is He Just As Much Sinned Against As Sinner?" and "'The Football Association and Luis Suárez - Reasons of the Regulatory Commission' - Discuss.", to be precise.) Suárez still maintains his innocence, Liverpool still maintain he is innocent; what is surely beyond dispute is that he should not have said what he did to Evra, not even once, and his admission that he called Evra a "negro" once and once only was basically an admission of guilt.

However, your correspondent is still of the opinion that the ban was too severe, the fine imposed by the FA (40000 Pounds Sterling) was not harsh enough, and that Suárez should perhaps have been made to undertake a FA course in British football culture. Others who are better-versed in the art of writing than I am have criticised the possibility of such a course ever coming to fruition; such a course would do no harm, though, and would prepare any and all foreign players for life in the Premier League or Football League. It may still be something for the FA to think about. After all, no club, nor a player's agent, can cater for every eventuality during a player's career.

Suárez's career has not been without controversy; he had a quick gnaw on PSV Eindhoven player Otman Bakkal's shoulder during a league game in November 2010, for which he received a seven-game ban. (There is no truth in the rumour, by the way, that Suárez has been lined up to play the role of The Count in "Sesame Street: The Movie" alongside PFA chief Gordon Taylor as the Ghost of Mr. Hooper and Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan as Uncle Fester - oops, sorry, wrong film..)

Before that, of course, he gained world-wide notoriety for deliberately parrying Ghanaian player Dominic Adiyiah's goalbound header on the line in the last minute of extra-time of the 2010 World Cup quarter-final between Uruguay and Ghana, at Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. (Ghanaian captain Asamoah Gyan ballooned the resulting penalty against the bar, which sent the ball careering over and into the black of the night sky. Uruguay went on to win in the penalty shoot-out. The ball, meanwhile, was eventually found less than 15 miles from the border with Lesotho.)

Having served his suspension, Suárez returned to action against Spurs during the 0:0 Premier League draw at Anfield on 6/2/12, and immediately earned a yellow card for hoofing Scott Parker in the stomach and much criticism to boot. For those who love statistics and criticise Suárez for diving, Gareth Bale received a yellow card for diving during the game; he became the first player in this season's Premier League campaign to have received two bookings for what is now described as "simulation."

Four days later came the much-awaited game at Old Trafford against Manchester United; it was the first time that Suárez and Evra came face-to-face since the match at Anfield in October. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, in response to his Liverpool counterpart Kenny Dalglish's comments that it was good to have Suárez back and that he should never have been banned in the first place, ratcheted up the temperature by saying: "Well, why didn't they [Liverpool] appeal?..They have said plenty, haven't they?"

The world at large, and the media, Manchester United and Liverpool fans in particular, was watching. They were especially waiting for the pre-match handshakes, to see what would happen when Suárez and Evra came across each other. Suárez had, according to press reports, agreed to shake Evra's hand; as it turned out, he did not do so.

How? Why? According to what television pictures you look at on websites such as YouTube, Suárez ignored Evra and proceeded to United goalkeeper David De Gea. Evra then tugged on Suárez's arm, who then brushed off Evra. Suárez and a rather bemused-looking De Gea then shook hands, though Rio Ferdinand, who was next in line, pointedly refused to shake Suárez's hand in a petty gesture.

In footage taken from other angles, Evra's hand, which was positioned at an already low angle, seems to retract when Suárez approaches, forcing Suárez to go instead to De Gea. In all footage, Evra is seen, after Suárez goes past him, stepping out of the line-up, and taking up a theatrical, almost Caesar-like, pose, ("Et tu, Lúis?") sweeping his arm out in a rather grandiose manner while looking into the television camera, until Liverpool 'keeper Pepe Reina pushed him back.

Who was to blame? Many will say Suárez, others will say Evra. It matters not. If the pre-match handshakes are an integral part of the routine, they should be carried through, and they weren't on this occasion. Suárez was castigated by all and sundry for not shaking Evra's hand, but, by the same token, one can only imagine what would have been said if the players had shaken hands.

At the start of the match itself, Evra and Ferdinand went scurrying after Suárez with obvious intent to play (or draw and quarter) the man, only for Evra to bring down Ferdinand. At half-time, the Frenchman apparently attempted to confront Suárez in the players' tunnel, which resulted in a melée involving players from both teams and members of the local constabulary.

United won the game by 2 goals to 1, but not before Suárez, of all people, got his name on the scoresheet. More fun and games followed at the end of the match, when, as Suárez was walking towards the tunnel in front of the Stretford End, Evra began springing around in front of him, waving his arms in gay abandon, with all the verve of a 45-year-old sheep-farmer who had just lost his virginity and wasn't shy of letting his neighbour - and bitterest rival - know all about it. Match referee Phil Dowd was too late to stop Evra making a fool of himself, but not too late to have a word in his ear. However, he still couldn't prevent all hell breaking loose while Suárez continued walking calmly on.

Suárez was the villain of the piece as far as the media was concerned for not shaking Evra's hand; perhaps he should have made more of an attempt to do so, especially if he had agreed to do so before the match. On the other hand, Evra had not said anything about shaking Suárez's hand before the match. The Sky Sports team covering the game, Jamie Redknapp apart, reacted with indignation to what had happened, putting the blame firmly on Suárez's shoulders.

Ferguson let rip on-camera after the game, saying that Suárez was a "disgrace to Liverpool Football Club." The United manager continued his tirade thus (quote from the Sunday People): "That player [Suárez] should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again. It [Suárez and Evra not shaking hands] could have caused a riot..I would get rid of him, I really would - I was really disappointed with that guy." Fergie was much milder in his opinion of Evra, and went on to say that Evra should not have reacted at the end of the match in the manner he did (you don't say), but defended his French star by saying that his behaviour was "understandable." 

An infuriated Dalglish, meanwhile, told Sky Sports reporter Geoff Shreeves that he didn't see the non-handshake, that he "didn't know he [Suárez] refused to shake his [Evra's] hand. I'll take your word for it..That's contrary to what I was told." Dalglish also told Shreeves that he thought the reporter was being "very severe and..bang out of order to blame Luis Suárez for anything that happened.."

Suárez had agreed before the game to shake Evra's hand as part of the pre-match routine, according to Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre, but for some reason obviously did not do so. As a result, Ayre issued a statement, which contained the below quote.

"He was wrong to mislead us and wrong not to offer his hand to Patrice Evra. He has not only let himself down, but also Kenny Dalglish, his teammates and the Club. It has been made absolutely clear to Luis Suarez that his behaviour was not acceptable..Luis Suarez has now apologised for his actions which was the right thing to do. However, all of us have a duty to behave in a responsible manner and we hope that he now understands what is expected of anyone representing Liverpool Football Club."

Suárez issued a statement moments before Ayre, in which he said: "I have spoken with the manager since the game at Old Trafford and I realise I got things wrong. I've not only let him down, but also the Club and what it stands for and I'm sorry. I made a mistake and I regret what happened. I should have shaken Patrice Evra's hand before the game and I want to apologise for my actions. I would like to put this whole issue behind me and concentrate on playing football." The Uruguayan also wrote on Twitter that he was sad because Liverpool had lost and was "disappointed because everything is not as it seems."

All very cryptic, but perhaps he was, in fact, correct in saying so. There was also speculation that Suárez refused to shake Evra's hand as he believed he was innocent of all charges. Perhaps the Liverpool player was referring to Evra's behaviour in what turned out to be a not-very-fair-play handshake (and also that Evra might have declined to shake his hand). 

Dalglish also apologised for his outburst to Shreeves, and, issued his own statement, saying: "When I went on TV after yesterday's game I hadn't seen what had happened, but I did not conduct myself in a way befitting of a Liverpool manager during that interview and I'd like to apologise for that."

Even Liverpool's sponsors, Standard Chartered bank, were also reported to have been less than happy with Suárez's behaviour, and representatives of the bank allegedly had what was described as "a very robust conversation" with Liverpool officials the day after the game at Old Trafford. One might say that a bank - any bank - criticising what might be termed as the "unethical" behaviour of a particular individual would be a gross example of extreme irony. (The whole Suárez and Evra saga is riddled with extreme irony..)

Ferguson, meanwhile, did not utter so much as a peep regarding his own tirade, but his club later put out the following statement: "Manchester United thanks Liverpool for the apologies issued following Saturday's game. Everyone at Old Trafford wants to move on from this. The history of our two great clubs is one of success and rivalry unparalleled in British football. That should be the focus in the future of all those who love the clubs."

Suárez would have like to have been able to put everything behind him, but Sun columnist Steven Howard wasn't going to let it lie just yet, referring to Suárez as a "dodgy piece of work who can't be trusted" and a "sociopath." This is a bit rich, coming from a man writing for a "newspaper" which is under the ownership of News International, a newspaper which blatantly lied about the behaviour of Liverpool supporters in the immediate aftermath of what was to become known as the Hillsborough Disaster, which happened in 1989, and which is famous for, among other things, being anti-Irish and having a distaste for people of colour, not to mention a publication which displays rather anti-homophobic at times.

The paper's editor at the time of the Hillsborough Disaster, Kelvin MacKenzie, in a blatant attempt to recover decimated sales of said publication on Merseyside, belatedly apologised in 2004 to relatives of those who died in the tragedy for what had been written about the deceased..and then, two years later, reportedly retracted the apology after saying he had been "forced" to issue it.

The Sun, on 26/2/12, carried the following headline: "Luis Suárez's granny reveals she used to call him 'Mí Negrito'" with a sub-headline, an alleged quote from Suárez's grandmother, Lila Piriz - "It's my fault he said what he did" - underneath. Well, as one might imagine, the article goes on to describe the lives, houses and neighbourhoods of those he left behind in great detail..but there was no sign of Sra. Piriz admitting culpability for her grandson's actions, only an affirmation that she used to call Liverpool's number 7 "Mí negrito."

Last weeken, an article appeared in the Sunday edition of the same newspaper in which a judge criticised the actions of Suárez after a man hailing from Greater Manchester ended up in court, charged with assaulting his partner. The man, Graham Trelfa, who was sitting watching the preamble to the Manchester United : Liverpool match at home with his girlfriend, apparently flung a remote-control at her (hitting her in the eye) and threw her to the floor after the Uruguayan did not shake Evra's hand.

The judge, Jonathan Taaffe, in passing a community service order sentence on Trelfa, called the assailant "a bully", and went on to describe Suárez as "petulant" and like a spoilt child." The article went on: "He [the judge] added: "The actions of a so-called role model can affect the behaviour of many." The same could be said of the media, could it not? In the light of the accused already having been found guilty of, and cautioned for, a similar offence back in 2008 (there was no mention in the article as to which Liverpool player was responsible), Judge Taaffe's comments should only be regarded as utterly laughable and not befitting of a man in his position.

Alan Shearer was critical of Suárez on the BBC's football highlights programme Match of the Day last weekend, alleging that he dived to earn a penalty against Arsenal, when he was actually clearly fouled; yes, he was clipped and went to ground, but although I'm no slouch myself - if only at the dinner-table, mind - I'm a lot slower than Suárez and I still end up doing somersaults when I nudge the edge of the sofa. Shearer is a fine one to talk about diving.

Yes, Suárez deliberately handled the ball on the line against Ghana; don't forget, though, that he (justifiably) earned a red card for his misdemeanour, which put him out of the 2010 World Cup semi-final. Anyone who has condemned Suárez for doing what he did and says that they would not do the same in such an important match is guilty of self-delusion, and those who, for want of a better phrase, keep harping on about it are flogging a dead horse and need to stop moralising. The "Suárez + handball against Ghana = cheat" argument is all a bit hackneyed and sooo 2010, you know.

If it had been Germany, for example, instead of Ghana, would the moral indignation of the media-led masses have been so strong? If Gyan had scored the penalty and the Black Stars had won, the Suárez handball would have been all but forgotten about. Show me a footballer who wouldn't do the same thing as Lúis Suárez did against Ghana and I'll buy you a drink, maybe two.

The Sun, then, and other sections of the media, not to mention bloggers and others who respond to what the media says and does, have vilified Suárez to an unacceptable degree. Yes, to repeat the point, Lúis Suárez should have not said what he said to Evra, and a ban was in order. Yes, he should have shaken Evra's hand, but the fact that it didn't happen appears as though that might not have been solely down to him, if one can use television pictures when forming an opinion.

Back to Evra. The Frenchman has escaped the wrath of the media, but is hardly blameless in all of this, even though he has kept quiet through all of what has happened since October, at the behest of his manager. If Suárez deliberately ignored Evra during the pre-match handshakes, then Evra had the right to feel aggrieved; again, the Uruguayan later apologised for not shaking Evra's hand.

On the other hand, if, as it appeared from certain angles during the television coverage of the game's preamble, Evra deliberately kept his hand down to provoke some sort of response from Suárez and then decided to indulge in some theatrics, he only succeeded in making himself look small. His and Ferdinand's attempt to possibly inflict bodily harm on his opponent less than a minute into the game fortunately backfired.

As mentioned already, Ferguson described Evra's behaviour at the end of the game as ünderstandable." Really, Sir Alex? Is a deliberate attempt to provoke a fellow professional justified? Never mind Dalglish's perhaps ill-considered statement to the media in the tunnel or Suárez being provocative - he is certainly a controversial character, and Liverpool surely knew what they were getting when they signed him - Evra's behaviour could have caused a riot after the game. 

Although the FA have seemingly turned a blind eye to Evra's conduct, and Ferguson's extremely unprofessional outburst after the game, both men have ended up coming out of the whole mess with precious little dignity intact. Evra, at the very least, deserved to have been carded for ungentlemanly conduct. Both gentlemen could, and maybe should, have been facing an FA charge of bringing the game into disrepute, not to mention incitement.

Suárez not only apologised for what he had said to Evra back in October (he made a statement in which he said that the word "negro" - or "negrito" - was acceptable in Uruguay, and, yes, he did add an apology to those who may have been offended by what he said to Evra), but also apologised for not shaking Evra's hand before the game. Neither Evra nor Ferguson have apologised for their actions before, during and/or after the game. What Judge Jonathan Taaffe said about Luis Suárez could be applied to both United men: "The actions of a so-called role model can affect the behaviour of many."

Both players have moved on, and hopefully the rest of the football world will do likewise. Although Liverpool have had a stop-start season, Suárez has been a thorn in the collective sides of many defences, and won his first winners' medal with the Reds when they defeated Cardiff City on penalties recently, more than doing his bit with a lively display, hitting the post (Martin Skrtel scored from the rebound). Whether he will still be in English football come next season will still be open to debate; he will be missed, not least by the media, so in that sense, they are cutting their own throats with their attitude, which often borders on xenophobic hate, towards the Uruguayan. He is a colourful, often controversial character, as is Wayne Rooney, for example, but, then, Suárez is Uruguayan and Rooney is English.

At the end of the day, to repeat what was said at the very beginning of this article, a lot of things have been said in the printed, televisual and not-so-social media about the whole affair, a lot of which, posted by anonymous posters (and mostly, but not all, from supporters of both clubs), has been of an extremely derogatory, not to mention racist, repugnant and also homophobic, nature towards both players, and all of which is utterly reprehensible and cowardly. (Many of the comments posted were potentially breaking the law as a result of their content.) 

Many people will disagree with what I have written in this article, and they are entitled to do so, but it is meant as fair comment and has tried to be objective. It's high time that everybody - both players, both clubs, both sets of supporters and the media - gathered up their coats and moved on. It's only football, after all. In the overall picture, when people are dying because of war and famine, whether or not two players shake hands is a bit of an irrelevance..even if whey should have done, regardless of who was to blame for this not happening. It perhaps says little of us all that we have been all so focused on this side of the Suárez-Evra saga in the midst of infinitely more important things.




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