The number ten.
It is a number in football that evokes wonderful visions in the mind of the likes of Pele, Maradona, Bergkamp, Totti and Messi doing something with a ball millions could only dream of doing.
As they ran themselves past defenders and into our living rooms there stood the number on their backs standing out as bright as can be, a sure sign that their genius was labelled correctly.
Oh how beautiful number ten is to football fans.
Unfortunately for the number it exploded negatively into headlines everywhere today across the world when Luis Suarez was given a ten game ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic during Sunday’s Premier League match at Anfield.
Such a high number, of course, led to many discussions playing out on twitter, talk radio and in offices around the globe with the majority seemingly agreeing that the suspension was fair.
“What else could the FA have done? They would have looked ridiculous if they had given less than seven. He got seven games for biting in Holland, is a repeat offender, was banned eight games for racially abusing Patrice Evra, didn’t learn his lesson by shaking his hand. Ten games is lenient,” preached Talksport’s drive time host Adrian Durham.
It seemed to be a common argument.
“I agree, he has to be taught a lesson,” said his co-host Darren Gough.
However, is it really the Football Association’s job to teach Suarez a lesson? And does handing him 10 games to watch from the stands stop him from doing something he shouldn’t do next time when eight last year did not?
Furthermore is it not in the interest of the FA to keep Suarez in the Premier League? I do not expect them to have noticed the alarmingly lack of true world class players now in their league but, surely, even the suits will know the benefit of having the Uruguayan representing their league each weekend?
A lengthy, intelligent discussion with one of their finest clubs, in Liverpool, would have revealed to them the precarious situation the Reds currently stand. Suarez is clearly playing at a level with his club that doesn’t match his talent and with another year without sitting at the top table of European football’s elite competition looming it was clear the summer months would be very challenging for Ian Ayre, Brendan Rodgers and the Fenway Sports Group to keep their prize asset.
The lengthy ban does nothing to keep Suarez happy with the country he is working in and gives him more reasons to slip back into the ‘them against me’ mentality that he so often displays while on a football field.
This was not Lewis Swares, an average footballer the world had never heard of because he wasn’t very good. This is a star footballer who the Premier League are fortunate to have at the moment and the hearing should have recognised that and come down with a number slightly lower that would have satisfied all involved, not a number that is sure to drag the situation on now with an appeal. Special consideration for premium talent happens in every workplace for a reason, the person in question is always very valuable to those who he represents and the FA have been naive in not thinking that way.
There have been many reports written in the past few days siting an ‘embarrassing situation’ for the branding of Premier League and Liverpool Football Club when nothing could be further from the truth. The Premier League is in the entertainment business and this publicity has done them no harm whatsoever.
The fact that a three-person independent regulatory commission today sat around a room and threw a 10 game suspension towards one of its finest players for a bite is not only misguided but also, perhaps more seriously, shows a real lack of awareness of what the game of football is for.
Football is about entertainment. Millions of people go to work miserable Monday to Friday in England and one of the main things that keeps them going all week is the allure of the football match on Saturday. A chance to watch their beloved team and some of the finest players in the game perform magic tricks with a ball. Today’s ruling denies Liverpool football fans a chance at that until, at least, late September and quite possibly much longer.
Suarez was rightfully dubbed this week ‘a world class player and a world class problem’ and of course he has let down the entire city and should have been banned but lengthy suspensions in football are doing nobody any favours.
A suspension is supposed to be a severe punishment that represents the crime committed, to prevent you from doing it again but the game is now making a laughing stock out of itself against this notion. Suspensions are thrown out so often that the purpose of them in the first place has been lost. Three yellow cards gained in the Champions League season through to the semi finals and you are banned. A three game ban for mistiming a tackle for a split second in the Premier League and it is ‘violent conduct’, get another red and you miss another four games.
Today’s ruling ensures the 26-year-old, if he stays in England, will miss a quarter of a season when you consider at least two domestic cup ties plus 38 league matches. This is the equivalent of around 20 games in the NHL or NBA, 40 games in Major League Baseball, five races in Formula One and ten PGA tour events. Excessive to say the least.
Many of these sports have handed out lengthy suspensions in the past when sportsmen in question have done very serious acts such as break the law and take performance-enhancing drugs, deliberately cause accidents in a car, use a hockey stick to hit an opponent in the head or run into the crowd and fight with fans.
In fact football itself has rightfully done the same to players for despicable acts such as kicking fans, pushing referees or punching opponents in the face but it now adds an act that caused absolutely no harm to an opponent. A pathetically disgusting act, no doubt, but one hardly worth removing one of the game’s greatest entertainers for 25% of its season.
Suarez may have hurt Ivanovic for a split second but the FA’s ruling will hurt their consumers and their prospects of keeping such a talent for much longer.