22 April 2013

Count Dracula in a Liverpool Jersey

How is it that a seemingly intelligent professional football player like Liverpool FC’s Luis Suarez can think that, despite the presence of 26 television cameras strategically located all around the stadium at Anfield, he can get away with what has got to be the most bizarre infraction that I have ever seen a football player commit in my entire life.

This was in last night’s Premier League encounter against Chelsea when the football was undeservedly overshadowed by a singular moment of impulsiveness and stupidity on the part of Suarez. He tried to take a chunk out of the arm of Chelsea’s Serbian defender Branislav Ivanović with his teeth.

Or, maybe he was not trying to get away with the act at all and was simply overwhelmed by a primal instinct to bite the Serbian. In Holland, after all, he used to be called ‘the Cannibal’ for having similarly bitten an opposing player, an act that earned him a seven-match ban.

None of the match officials saw last night’s piece of lunacy; else, it is now argued, Suarez’s brilliantly headed equaliser in the dying moments of added time would not have counted. But television cameras see what the officials miss; and now Suarez faces an investigation by the Football Association along with a potentially lengthy ban from the game.

Make no mistake about it, Suarez can be brilliant. Two instances of brilliance last night allowed Liverpool to draw level each time Chelsea nudged ahead on the scoreboard.
I am sure, despite Suarez’s attack of psychosis, that there was provocation. Indeed, Ivanović just happens to be one of those hard-nosed professionals that opposing fans find it easy to abhor. On the other hand, whatever the Serb was doing or saying to Suarez could not have been any worse than what defenders the world over do as a matter of course to opposing forwards.

That is just the way things are; and Suarez cannot claim that he does not know this. Only Luis Suarez knows what goes on inside his own head; but biting somebody is something you rather expect more from a child or your neighbourhood pooch, not a professional football player who currently sits as top goalscorer of the Premier League.

Truth be told, however, I have been annoyed with Suarez since the loss to Southampton at the St. Mary’s Stadium. I love Suarez when he is on song. He is skilful, has a predator’s nose for goals and works hard harrying defenders when Liverpool do not have the ball.

It is when he is off-colour – as he has been for a string of recent matches – when he is arguably a health hazard to Liverpool fans the world over; i.e. chewed ends of fingernails and hair pulled from out of the scalp.

Even last night, he blew from the sublime – as when he chipped a ball goalwards for Daniel Sturridge to sidefoot in and when he headed the equaliser as time expired – to the asinine – as when a raised arm during a corner gave the referee no choice but to award a penalty to Chelsea.

But even that raised arm did not annoy me because I felt he had been nudged off balance and the arm went up as a reflex movement to help him regain equilibrium.

What has been a constant source of annoyance has been his tendency to over-elaborate, something that has cost Liverpool goals and is one of the reasons why Liverpool currently sit in mid-table ignominy. Take that match against Southampton when even a schoolboy would have gone for power and scored. Suarez, being himself, attempted to chip the goalkeeper which only meant that his shot was cleared from off the line.

His decision-making can also be incredibly suspect. There were several occasions last night when teammates had made telling runs down either flank and, in the Liverpool ethos of pass-and-move, Suarez should have routinely laid the ball onto their paths and allowed the game to flow.

But in each of these occasions, Suarez preferred to hold onto the ball and subsequently lost possession. Had I been one of those players who had galloped forward from deep positions, I would have been extremely annoyed and given him a piece of my mind.

That even Jamie Carragher, who is always barking at teammates and even gets into on-field arguments with them if they do not pull their weight, lays off Suarez even when the latter is being utter crap is a source of concern.

When a star striker is going through a bad spell, he must not be allowed to use his teammates as supporting cast just so he can break his scoring duck by making ill-advised attempts at goal. The team must never be compromised for the individual.

The only player who does not think twice about having a verbal go at Suarez is young Jonjo Shelvey. Unfortunately, Shelvey’s cameo last night was his first appearance after a lengthy spell on the substitutes’ bench.

To a great extent, Brendan Rodgers has got to be just as culpable. Suarez’s loss of form has been there for all to see. Why keep Sturridge, who has been scoring regularly, on the bench?

The longer a striker goes without scoring, the more his confidence suffers. There are two ways to handle the situation. First, to keep playing the striker and hope he plays his way back to form and confidence.

This is risky at best because his frustration can begin to affect the entire team. Sometimes, for lack of options, the off-form striker has to be used because there simply is nobody else of the required quality to play.

But Liverpool have Sturridge, which makes it all the more incredible that the second way to deal with an off-form striker has not been utilised. That is, to send him to the bench. After all, the break can even do him a world of good.

Unless, in his desperation to hold onto Suarez, Rodgers has been prepared to use the striker even when he has obviously not been at his best.

Make no mistake about it, Suarez can be brilliant. Two instances of brilliance last night allowed Liverpool to draw level each time Chelsea nudged ahead on the scoreboard. People swoon over these pieces of skill and ingenuity that they often forget the hair-pulling moments when an act of selfishness robbed somebody – not Suarez but somebody, anybody – else the chance to actually win it for Liverpool.

In the post-match interview, Rodgers was obviously annoyed with Suarez and said that nobody is irreplaceable. And about time he came around, too.

Current Liverpool fans will probably be annoyed with me for my stance on Suarez. On the other hand, I have been a Liverpool fan for four decades, and none in a long line of distinguished strikers – Keegan, Dalglish, Johnson, Rush, Aldridge, Fowler, Owen – ever acted like Count Dracula in broad daylight.

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Brendan, Let Loose the Kids Please!