Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

The title is all about the misunderstanding of a phrase when simply adding the comma changes the meaning completely.  It seems to fit quite nicely when considering the fuss that’s been made of ‘the bite’.

Fortunately, for many headline writers football is blessed with already using many teeth/eating analogies so there are puns-a-plenty around.  However, I feel many are getting completely carried away with the whole thing.  This article attempts to explain why.

Like many people who watched the Liverpool/Chelsea game on Sunday, I was surprised at Luis Suarez biting Branislav Ivanovic in the arm.  Surprised, not shocked, not sickened, not disgusted.  Emotions such as those are reserved for career-threatening injuries, or actions which injure an opponent.  I couldn’t really understand why he did it, seemed a crazy thing to do.  What astonished me was the extent to which Sky turned their whole post-match discussion to it.  They dispensed with Geoff Shreeves and brought in an ace interviewer who was clearly going to get to the heart of the matter.  Once he realised neither manager was going to comment on the incident, he was out of questions.

Many things have been said about it since and several have puzzled me.  Some people have claimed ‘kids will copy his actions’.  Really?  From an early age children are told biting is wrong.  If kids don’t know the rights & wrongs of biting before they reach an age where they’re interested in football, then their education is to blame for that, not a footballer.

Footballers are often told they’re role models and should behave as such, yet far worse occurs on a football pitch which will go towards soiling a rounded personality.  Personally, I find someone chewing with their mouth open offensive, yet many managers do it.  I find spitting disgusting, yet many sports people do it.  Feigning injury is another activity which will damage any person’s reputation.  Feigning injury is the equivalent of calling in sick when you just want a day off.  One of the worst features of a football match is the distinct lack of respect for authority shown by players and managers every week.  This then manifests itself into the way society treats its officials such as police, teachers and even parents.  Yet football seems powerless or even disinterested in cutting out this behaviour, or at least showing it is appalled by it.

Think about the reaction to Wayne Rooney swearing into a camera after scoring.  Many defended a player’s right to swear, and personally I would too, but swearing should be left on the pitch and in the dressing room, not straight down the camera to millions watching.

Are we on the verge of an epidemic of players biting others?  I think not.  Few will understand what makes someone want to do that, and Suarez will obviously have his reasons.

I was intrigued in how Benitez used Ivanovic to mark Suarez.  Just cast your mind back to Chelsea’s visit to Anfield last season and you will recall how Suarez made a mockery of John Terry and with the prospect of doing the same to David Luiz, Ivanovic was the exact type of combative player who just might unsettle the irritating Uruguayan.  Make no mistake, Ivanovic’s job was to get a reaction from the Liverpool striker and there were many instances of the two clashing throughout the game.  Ivanovic had clearly got under Suarez skin, which may have garnered the reaction which lead to so much debate.

Is that why Ivanovic accepted Suarez apology with such calm?  No lawyers were called for, no sanctions demanded by the player, manager or club.  He didn’t try and coax his teammates into trying to give evidence at how devastated he was afterwards.  I believe Ivanovic was there to provoke a reaction and, ultimately, hoping Suarez would react in such a way as to be sent-off.  This sort of tactic happens in nearly every match around the world.  It happens in other sports and is accepted as part of the game.

Had Suarez not have grabbed a dramatic last minute equaliser, Ivanovic would’ve been victorious in the encounter.  But Suarez goal not only levelled the score with his opponent, but recompensed the club, the supporters and his teammates.  He later apologised to all concerned and the club were swift in stating their condemnation.

So what punishment would be sufficient?  If the referee had seen the incident he is likely to have issued a red card which would’ve produced an immediate 3-match ban.  The FA is likely to consider this the minimum term then they will want to add some.  No doubt there will be plenty of comparisons to other crimes.  There is likely to be mention of Callum McManaman’s recent tackle on Massaido Haidara which went unpunished by the FA.  Ryan Shawcross escaped punishment after his tackle almost ended Aaron Ramsey’s career.  But both these offences were dealt with by the referee at the time so the FA says “you cannot re-ref a game”.  Suarez may live to regret his misdemeanour was missed by the officials.

Biting is a different issue to horror tackles.  Remember Dennis Wise and his crafty pinch on Nicky Butt’s inner thigh?  The ref missed it but millions on television didn’t and neither did Butt who was sent-off for retaliation.  Wise, educated amongst the cheeky chavy chappies of Wimbledon, also got away with a biting incident when he bit Marcelino’s shoulder during a European Cup Winners’ Cup match against Real Mallorca in 1999.  He was charged with the offence only to be cleared by UEFA.

Sports Illustrated quoted on 16 April 1999

The referee didn’t spot the incident and Marcelino didn’t lodge a complaint but European soccer’s governing body has opted to go ahead with the hearing after the incident was caught by television cameras”

Sound familiar?

Wise denied the accusation and UEFA launched an investigation, eventually clearing the player.  UEFA said

Although the player’s unsporting gesture warrants clear disapproval, there is no legal basis in UEFA’s disciplinary regulations for imposing a sanction.”

Often incidences such as this were not seen by officials at that time.  One of the most famous was Vinny Jones grabbing Paul Gascoigne’s testicles as both waited for a corner.  The incident was captured on a photograph but the FA decided against retrospective action.

One other more recent incident which bears comparison to Suarez is Goran Popov’s spitting at Kyle Walker.  The West Brom defender was involved in a tussle with the Spurs full-back before spitting at him.  He was sent-off for the incident in a country where spitting is considered one of the lowest and most abhorrent, forms of attack.  The FA may choose to consider Suarez bringing the game into disrepute, but the other incidences I have highlighted could also have warranted that charge, yet didn’t.

In the end, Suarez is likely to be charged just for being Suarez.  Media, supporters and opposing managers seem to react with a greater furore than with any other player around, when Suarez commits offences seen in other grounds around the country.  Rival supporters all claim to ‘hate’ the Uruguayan as many of them would definitely not object to having him in their team.

The FA will decide they don’t want this filthy little individual abusing their game, he has previous and has clearly not learned so we’ll just have to keep upping the ante and teach this grubby little man a lesson.  But judgements on offences set precedents for which future sentences are measured.  The FA will need to ensure they match the punishment to the crime as well as remain consistent with previous bans.

No comments:

Post a Comment