Some players are just destined for the headlines. How they find themselves there though, is often very different.
Many of those regularly in the headlines earned that right on merit, their amazing displays on the pitch rewarded with plaudits and front page cameos. You know the types: Messi, Ronaldo, van Persie, Pirlo, etc. Then there are those who frequently feature in headlines for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes it’s for the things they say, while others it’s for repeated infractions on the field, and still others it’s because they seem to gravitate towards all forms of trouble. These are your Bartons, Bendtners and your Bellamys… and that’s just the B’s.
But as you might expect, there is a small sliver of each of population of headline grabbers that overlaps with the other: the ones whose craziness off the pitch is only overshadowed by the crazy feats they pull on it. They’re just as likely to make waves for having a public meltdown as they are for bagging a game winning goal. King Eric Cantona the crazy paved the way for other brilliant yet mad players like Zlatan Ibrahimović, Mario Balotelli and Luis Suárez. All great footballers, but all possess a fatal flaw that makes each team they’re with question keeping them around.
Take Suárez for example: he’s currently sitting top of the Premier League scorer’s table with 22 tallies in 29 matches. He accounts for 39% of Liverpool’s total scoring output this season, and has at times single-handedly kept the Reds in the fight for a European place. The Uruguayan also has a rare knack for not only scoring goals, but creating them too. There’s no better player in England — maybe the world — at getting to the goal line, turning the corner on the defender and laying off a ball for onrushing teammates. Suárez has also seen international success, leading La Celeste to the Copa América title last year with four goals. Fans of the diminutive striker often lavish praise on his work ethic, passion and desire on the pitch.
But despite his brilliance, it’s that passion on the pitch that just seems to keep him in a constant state of trouble. Wherever he goes, trouble follows.
Though a 19-year-old Suárez quickly found his shooting boots after moving to Europe to play with Groningen — netting four times in one five game stretch — he also managed to earn three yellows and a red… in that same five game stretch. When Ajax came calling after that season, and Groningen rejected their initial offer, Suárez took his club to court to push through the move. Once he finally forced his way to the Dutch powerhouse, though quickly becoming a club legend thanks to an impressive 111 goals in 159 appearances, he then decided it was a good idea to bite an opposing player. A seven match ban ensued.
He moved on to Liverpool during that suspension for a hefty £22.8 million. A price befitting for a rising world-class talent. A quiet six months followed, but in his first full season on Mereyside, Luis found himself in trouble once again. The first incident involved a perceived racial slur aimed at Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, earning an eight game ban. The next time they squared off against one another, he refused to shake the Frenchman’s hand, sparking even greater controversy. Then there was that time he flipped the Fulham faithful the bird when exiting at Craven Cottage. This season? Predictably little different. He’s admitted to diving in a match against Stoke, confirming many’s suspicions of his propensity to simulate. And more recently, a sucker punch while playing for Uruguay and an intentionally punched goal to knock non-league Mansfield Town out of the FA Cup round out his latest sins.
But all the while, in spite of all the turbulence, he’s poured in the goals. And for that, the Liverpool fans love him.
Now there was one headline I left out of that list of sins, and it’s one that many of his supporters point to as a defense for all of his indiscretions. The scene: the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals in Johannesburg. Uruguay and Ghana were in the dying moments of added time. A shot headed by Stephen Appiah, clearly headed for goal, was punched clear by none other than one Luis Suárez. Assomoah Gyan missed the ensuing penalty, and the Uruguayans advanced to the semifinals on penalties. Suárez had sacrificed himself for the chance that his team might advance, and it worked. Millions labeled him a cheat. Though most of us would have wanted to do the same had we been in his shoes, but wouldn’t have because we lacked the fortitude to do so.
You see, if you ask Suárez’s biggest fans, Luis suffers from little more than the occasional rush of blood to the head. In moments of excitement, his passion and desire and drive to win is so intense that he’ll do whatever it takes to strive for victory. That example from the World Cup illustrates that point perfectly, and I can see honor in that. It’s a gut, instinctual reaction to do what you can to win.
But it’s when they apply that same logic to events such as his handball goal against Mansfield, I start to wonder if they’re just looking at Luis through rose-tinted lenses. He made the choice to poke in that ball with his hand. That’s a lot less instinctual, and lot more decision. Same goes for the punch to Chile’s Gonzalo Chara; that was far from an “instinctual” reaction. And while he was certainly provoked, that doesn’t excuse his decision get even. You look at that, and the laundry list of other infractions he’s got on his rap sheet, you get the feeling that his “instinctive actions” are actually more accurately described as an inability to control his reactions.
Look, I’m not disputing Suárez’s ability. On his day, when he’s got his head tied on tight, he puts on a show that few players are capable of replicating. In fact, there’s little doubting that a lot of his genius comes from his unpredictability. And I get why Liverpool supporters would want to defend him, considering all he’s done for the Anfield outfit.
But don’t try to feed me this bull that he’s a scapegoat or a media target. He can be a good footballer, but still be a shit human being. He built the reputation he carries. That’s the price you pay when you draw so much attention to yourself. The more headlines you make, the more cameras they point at you. And when you have a fatal flaw that makes headlines like Luis Suárez, all of the cameras are already pointed at you anyway.