Most rational thinking people have a clear and concise set of ethics. Each person’s will vary to another’s set. Some will be more rigid than others. But there will still be a particular code to which they view what is right and wrong. What is forgivable, and what is not.
One element to completely distort this moral compass for many is football tribalism. Support of one’s team or players can see a person’s value system reduced to blind faith. Football fans will defend one of their players through allegations of racism, through spitting, after assaulting fans and after biting an opponent. The more quality the player has usually correlates to how staunch this partisan defence will stand.
However, one thing fans will not tolerate, is a player wanting to leave. Despite a player testing their morality on many more widely offensive occasions. Unless they have immersed themselves in to this deity like a true fan should, then he can no longer be defended. Flirtations with another tribe can see this seemingly unconditional loyalty dissolve.
And so Luis Suarez has dared to do just that. Before a ray of sun has split a proverbial tree, before a burger has been scraped off another cheap barbecue, Liverpool’s star forward has stated he wishes to leave Liverpool. After a tempestuous two and a half seasons on Merseyside, a time drenched in as much mind bending moments of brilliance, as soul destroying moments of insanity, Suarez wishes to escape what he sees as media persecution and depart for what he hopes will be Real Madrid.
But whether Madrid bid for him or not, does Suarez owe Liverpool another year at least? The greatest insult of this, for fans, has been that for 2 years they have fractured the equilibrium of their moral compass to defend this man, and he owes them. But does Suarez really owe Liverpool or anyone this form of loyalty?
Despite the shock and indignation for supporters, this is something that had to be expected. On April 21st, as Sky Sports editors drooled over their control panel and let the moment of insanity roll over and over again in replays, a part of every Liverpool fan had to believe that this could be the last time they would ever see Luis Suarez in the famous red. A match that in itself, served up a microcosm of Suarez’s Anfield career. The mercurial pass for Sturridge to resurrect them in to the match, to the frankly daft concession of a penalty due to his handball. With Chelsea moments from taking 3 points from Anfield to compound the misery of the frenzy that would now ensue, the premier leagues finest goal pest would steal in to secure a point and have the final say. But the bite on Bransilav Ivanovic would surpass everything else that match had served up and consigned the result to a mere statistic for the records.
Liverpool were suitably embarrassed. Behind the scenes Rodgers had to be livid. But the defence began. Suarez was immediately condemned by the club but not dismissed. Internally he would be brought in line, but not cast aside. In the face of this nationwide condemnation, disapproval so widely consuming, even the Prime minister would say his piece, Brendan Rodgers had possibly his finest hour in charge of Liverpool.
His interviews have been as erratic as his team’s form but he handled this somewhat unparalleled situation impressively and commendably found a perfect balance between peace and punishment when there seemed to be none.
Rodgers’ grasp of the situation was certainly more controlled than his predecessor’s. During Evra-gate, Liverpool’s then manager, Kenny Dalglish, despite his good intentions only fueled the raging fires of anti-Luis rhetoric and made a desperate situation worse. The Suarez T-Shirts actually added to the insult and all groups from the FA to ‘Kick it out’ were grossly offended at what they saw as Liverpool’s ignorance for the gravity of the situation.
However much the two contrasted, the purpose was the same, keep Luis Suarez. Whether he was guilty or not, neither crime would be enough to proceed with a case for dismissal. Both would lead to a conveyor belt regurgitation of Shankly-esque quotes about the Liverpool family, one for all, and You’ll Never Walk Alone wheeled out more times than a Gerry and the Pacemakers world tour. Management and fans seemed united in the front that Suarez was still too valuable to lose. He would be forgiven and he would be helped.
Despite this defence, it has been Suarez himself who has initiated an exit strategy. From the safe haven of Uruguay he has conjured up images of media persecution with Madrid or actually any other league, as his salvation. And this is what have upset Liverpool fans more than any of his previous misdeeds.
Football fans are a romantic sort. At times they can be guilty of living in a false utopia where all their players have the blood of the club racing through their veins. Liverpool fans in particular wish for the player to be connected to the club since birth, must have an Istanbul related quote from years ago on their C.V. and an L.F.C. affiliated tattoo would seal him in for a lifetime of service.
The reality though is that these players are professionals. In the context of how they feel about their time at the club, the word ‘love’ gets revamped from ‘like’. Although professions of love roll of the tongue without real sincerity or forward planning, a players two main objectives when they move to a new club are money and honours.
When the latter fails to materialise and the prospect of them on the horizon looks as distant as ever, it should be expected that a player might look elsewhere. If that player is in the world class bracket, it should be certain.
There should also be an understanding that the emotions of betrayal and desertion were mirrored by the fans of the player’s previous club, Ajax in Suarez’s case. Liverpool broke hearts to bring Suarez here in the first place so to believe this move would be his last is certainly fanciful to deluded.
Of course though, Suarez’s situation is somewhat unique. The moments of brilliance and ironically more so, the moments of insanity have manifested in a stronger bond between player and punter. This bond they believe places the player in their debt. As crucial as any aspect in football tribalism is defence in the face of opposition from rival fans. Liverpool fans have struggled but been resolute in their defence of Suarez to all manner of condemnation from rival fans and forces. They see this transfer maneuvering as a insult to their effort.
However there must be an admission within this scorned collective, that this defence is not due to any ethical leaning. It is not because ‘he is one of us’ and therefore we unite. The foundations of this defence is because Suarez is far and away Liverpool’s best player, most likely the Premier League’s. A ridiculously skilled footballer that has lit up Anfield with individual magic not seen since John Barnes.
At this time more than ever, Liverpool are extremely fortunate to have a truly world class player and the idea a jewel like this would simply be happy to continue a pattern of 6th, 8th and 7th league finishes is one that only seems logical within football tribalism. It is this very desire to better himself that has excelled him to the player with such inordinate ability.
This outrageous talent, despite the stance of innocence, provided the cornerstone of the racism defence. As Kenny Dalglish’s record breaking transfer acquisitions turned his tenure into one of the most damaging in Liverpool’s history, one star shone. Perhaps never before had such vast money been spent in English football on such ill equipped players. An outlay that rationally should be as embarrassing as anything Suarez has inflicted on the club, he himself was the one element of quality from the £120 million assortment. And so Dalglish would have felt compelled to defend his best player. The proceeding games without him gave a brief window to how precarious Liverpool’s situation would, is, and most likely, will be, without him.
Even now, after he has offended, in an incident that was so severe it can be drawn upon in almost isolation in English football, Liverpool would protect him. But was there really any alternative? Biting an opponent left the club snookered to a position of condemnation. Anything less would have been yet another P.R. disaster. They also expressed dismay at the harshness of the punishment, which it undoubtedly was. Much more dangerous incidents have gone unchecked, with little scrutiny.
But he remained the clubs most valuable commodity, after this season more than ever. Advertising his availability for possible suitors was as likely as sacking him. Football simply doesn’t follow the rules of most forms of employment. Yet here we are and before the window had even opened, Liverpool had discreetly publicised their price through a combination of both manager and media. Suarez was now up for sale.
There is no way we can know that this wasn’t already decided as a very plausible conclusion from the very moment Suarez stuck his protruding enamel into Serbian flesh. There is absolutely no question that P.R. conscious F.S.G. would be weighing up the pro’s of selling their most valuable player, a player who could decrease that price at any moment with another disgraceful moment. Liverpool fans should not be under the illusion that every level of club affiliation would be desperate for him to stay.
The final bite from this reality pie, possibly the most difficult to swallow, the crust if you will, is that 5 times European champions, Liverpool, are currently in a different stratosphere than Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. Both clubs offer guaranteed Champions League football, a level everyone, not least Suarez himself, know he should be on. They offer a vast supporting cast of equally skilled (or at least close to) players that will challenge on all fronts, annually.
Its been at least 4 years since Liverpool have offered that. Add language and weather and its difficult to see any possible reason why Suarez wont end up in the Spanish capital.
Some will still believe that all that is irrelevant and Suarez should share their passion, stay and re-immerse himself in the good fight with them. Maybe so. Maybe there is simply too many reasons for him to leave. But what should be most disappointing for Liverpool fans about this whole saga (the first of many this summer no doubt) is how Suarez has excavated this opportunity. Not with the subtlety and close control of a chance he has conjured on the pitch, but with a touch more reserved for Andy Carroll.
His luring of Madrid’s attention is beyond transfer flirtation but street corner prostitution. Yes the media have been fixated with Suarez. There is no question there were elements of persecution especially in the middle of last season as every thing he done was under the microscope, culminating in being labelled a cheat by an awful example of a commentator, while Gareth Bale and many others side stepped scrutiny. At times even praised for displaying a form of elevated footballing I.Q. But by 6.00 P.M. on April 21st, Luis Suarez had waived his right to defence based on persecution.
“It’s a good moment for a change of environment because of all I’ve been through in England, where I haven’t been judged as a player but based on other things.”I have only words of thanks to the club, the fans of Liverpool, but the treatment I received from the rest of England in recent weeks has been tough’.
His words are akin to Tony Soprano in Dr. Melfi’s office. Acknowledgement of a crime but without really taking responsibility and actually blaming other forces. This has been the most insulting of this ordeal. Suarez has no need for this public exposure to facilitate a move abroad, his almost unrivaled talent will bring him anywhere he wants. He fails to understand that what he does owe Liverpool at the very least, is the respect of decorum.
Fans of all clubs should not take moments like this as personal insults. It is the harsh reality of the football food chain. Your teams best players will be bought by bigger teams just as your team will then buy players from smaller teams as his replacement. All Liverpool fans can hope for now is either Luis Suarez stays for at least one more year or they get as much money as possible for their superstar and spend it perfectly. There is almost no room for error as they attempt to push for the top 4. Sadly though, looking back over the last 20 years, there are too few moments were Liverpool have displayed a perfect touch in the transfer market.