Early Doors

Suarez hard done by, this time

Early Doors

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Luis Suarez has been the subject of close attention from the FA of late

What a shame Liverpool exhausted their print run of Suarez T-shirts just a matter of days before the imposition of a ban for which an expression of indignation may have been entirely more appropriate.

According to reports on Thursday morning, Liverpool are said to be furious at Wednesday's news that their forward will be banned for one game after admitting an FA charge of improper conduct for flipping the bird to Fulham fans on December 5.

And for once, ED agrees with the paranoid conspiracy theorists who have taken over at Anfield, and can presumably be heard mumbling about shape-shifting lizards when not taking pot-shots at the FA.

Though clearly Suarez's actions were inadvisable, and there is no possible defence resting on cultural differences this time, it was a brief and pretty harmless reaction to sustained provocation by home supporters who sought to label him a "cheat" throughout.

No doubt there are elements of Suarez's game that have encouraged such a tag - his histrionics are tiresome, as is his tendency to remonstrate forcefully and petulantly with referees - but that does not mean as a man he should be impervious to abuse from the stands.

Kenny Dalglish was absolutely furious with the stick the striker suffered on that night at Craven Cottage, telling the assembled press that the Fulham chants directed at Suarez were "scandalous".

He added: "I would like to see you write that in the paper because you would be in a bit of trouble as well. You write what you want to write. At the end of the day, we will look after Luis the best we can and I think it is about time he got a wee bit of protection from some people."

The bigger, contentious question of whether Suarez is more sinned against than sinning, angel or demon, has been unresolved since he helped knock Ghana out of the 2010 World Cup using his arm. On that day he was either cast as a hero who sacrificed himself for his country, or a Machiavellian schemer who ended African participation in the continent's first World Cup via dastardly means. For what it is worth, ED sides with the former perspective.

Certainly his catalogue of misdemeanours, including biting an opponent whilst at Ajax, have built up an unfavourable personal picture of a quite wonderful technical talent, while it barely needs stating that his racial abuse of Patrice Evra was absolutely abhorrent and really should be considered in isolation to other incidents, such is its severity.

But was raising a finger to Fulham fans really so heinous a crime that he must miss Friday night's match against Newcastle? ED suspects that - on this issue specifically - the FA has got a bit too over-sensitive.

Football has become a world where every tackle must be transformed into an assault by a dive, where mild criticism from a player is turned by the media into the man in question "slamming" an opponent in an "astonishing attack". Players demand bookings for being brushed on the head. Every action seemingly has an unequal and excessive reaction.

But this process of ultra-sensitisation and mild emasculation has not been replicated in the stands, where foul language is common. Of course it is crucial that outright abuse — racial, homophobic, whatever — is stamped out wherever it arises, but football grounds have always been and will remain forums for what would generously be termed industrial language.

When a player responds with a cheeky gesture, he is punished to the tune of a one-game ban and a £20,000 fine. That, by the way, is just £15,000 less than Bulgaria were fined when hundreds of their supporters racially abused England players in September. Are those punishments proportionate? ED would suggest not.

And even if you believe the FA has to punish Suarez for a gesture seen in school playgrounds the country over, why was this action deemed less offensive than Wayne Rooney swearing into a TV camera last season, which was more spontaneous and certainly not intended as a direct riposte to fans, and earned the Manchester United striker a two-game ban?

For the record, ED felt Rooney's ban was ridiculous as well.

Though the FA acted commendably strongly when they adjudged Suarez to be guilty of racist abuse, his latest ban sits rather less well with ED.

While everyone would agree the governing body has a responsibly to ensure racism is eradicated from the game, no one is quite sure who appointed the FA as our moral arbiters in general, and rather puritanical ones at that.

This is not a new phenomenon of course. Back in 2006, Gary Neville was very critical of the FA when they fined him £5,000 for some allegedly inflammatory behaviour in a match against Liverpool.

"I am extremely disappointed with the decision," Neville said at the time. "I believe it is a poor decision, not just for me but for all footballers. Being a robot, devoid of passion and spirit is obviously the way forward for the modern-day footballer. And I ask the authorities, 'Where is football being taken?'"

It is a legitimate enquiry. For as well as possessing a moral zeal in matters of swearing and body language, the FA also lacks consistency. If Liverpool fans will excuse ED for staying with Mr Neville, an ever popular figure on Merseyside, he went unpunished for showing Carlos Tevez the finger during a Manchester derby in 2010.

The FA may feel that Suarez's behaviour could have incited crowd trouble, distinguishing it from the Neville incident, but this is Fulham we are talking about. Unless Harrods is low on Ralph Lauren jumpers, there won't be any riots inside Craven Cottage.

Indignation has not been in short supply at Liverpool of late, the misguidedly heavy-handed and clumsy reaction to Suarez's eight-match ban for racially abusing Evra has seen to that, and this latest ban will probably only further serve to fortify those laughable suggestions that the governing body has some kind of anti-Liverpool agenda.

However, the club can feel rightly aggrieved at this new ban, even if sympathy and a new batch of T-shirts are likely to be conspicuous by their absence.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I am very happy to play against him in training and it is a great experience. He is playing very, very good. He is a great opportunity for us but I'm not the manager. I couldn't make a decision on what is possible for him or for us. To have him with us is great because he shows his attitude, his experience. He still has the same attitude he showed in a lot of games at Arsenal." - Per Mertesacker endorses Arsenal's apparent decision to offer Thierry Henry a two-month deal to return to the club.

FOREIGN VIEW: "It is true, [me and Leonardo] met in Paris a few days ago. He is a friend of mine, but we have not talked about Pato. I just came to see how my friend Leo works in his role as sporting director of PSG.Pato has a contract with AC Milan and, for better clarification on his future, you would have to ask his employer. I'd be the wrong party." - Alexandre Pato's agent does little to calm suggestions that the Brazil international could swap AC Milan for Paris Saint-Germain in a transfer worth 50 million euros after admitting he met up with PSG's sporting director in the French capital.

COMING UP: We take a look at the biggest sporting tantrums of 2011, while Andy Mitten brings us his review of the year in Spanish football, which features some cracking entries. With Liverpool playing Newcastle on Friday night, we also look back to that famous 4-3 in 1996 and ask, where are they now?

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