THAT Luis Suarez eh? To read the more hysterical elements of the press over the last few days you’d think he was Bernie Madoff, Charles Ponzi and Allen Stamford all rolled into one, cheating people out of their life savings and living the high life without even a glimmer of conscience or humility.
I realise that to some people gaining an unfair advantage in a football match is akin to robbing your granny’s savings, but the reaction to Suarez’s winning goal against Mansfield Town was as exaggerated as it was predictable.
Suarez is no angel, and there were times last season when I thought we’d be better off without him, but on this occasion surely he deserved the benefit of the doubt?
The Laws of the Game – hands up those of you who’ve read them – are quite clear that for handling the ball to be an offence, it has to be deliberate.
Nothing to do with gaining an advantage, or controlling the ball, the offender has to have meant to do it.
In many ways this requirement for the referee to determine, i.e. guess, intent is an anachronism; it was removed from the definition of routine fouls long ago. But nearly all the Laws are subject to interpretation and custom and practice.
For example, how often do you see throw-ins awarded when the whole of the ball is nowhere near over the touchline?
So once again we’re back to the decision of the poor old referee, who has to decide one thing – did Suarez mean to do it?
Now I’ll admit that when it happened live in front of me – I qualified for a ticket through attending the Worcester City away game in 1959 – I was pretty sure that it was deliberate, and, like many around me, replaced my usual shrieks of joy with gasps of incredulity as Andre Marriner pointed back to the centre circle. But it happened so fast, there had to be a strong element of doubt – were his reactions really that quick? People have made careers in the circus with less.
Watching it later on the box, I found it hard to form a conclusion one way or another, unlike Jon Champion, whose scandalous description of Suarez as a cheat when watching the fifteenth replay at something like one-quarter speed merited the hasty apology rushed out by ESPN on Monday.
With the ball rebounding so quickly off the goalkeeper, it was at least arguable that there was any intent. If there’s any doubt an infringement has taken place, you shouldn’t stop play.
The Uruguayan was further pilloried in some parts for not ‘owning up’ and insisting Marriner award a free-kick and therefore, incidentally, show him a yellow card, thus becoming the first footballer ever to request a booking.
Many commentators picked up the absurdity of this expectation, implying as it does a mass confession by every defender who pulls a shirt unnoticed or forward who feigns a foul by the corner flag.
However no-one seemed to pick up that he might have had nothing to apologise for - if he knew it wasn’t deliberate, why should he invite punishment for something he didn’t do?
It does make you wonder why Suarez is not allowed the licence traditionally given to Paul Scholes for his ‘clumsy’ tackles, or Gareth Bale for his ‘tumbles at speed’. It couldn’t be because he’s foreign could it?