Just when we all thought we could start to move on from the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra controversy, Kenny Dalglish has decided to re-address the issue. Asked if he was happy with how Suarez had played after coming on as a substitute against Tottenham on Monday night, the Reds manager couldn’t resist replying “he should never have been banned in the first place.” Sometimes, managers can be prompted by interviewers immediately after games, but Andy Burton wasn’t fishing for controversy. This was a pre-meditated answer by a man who is losing credibility.
Dalglish and Liverpool as a football club have handled the entire situation appallingly. Their embarrassingly unprofessional statements and absurd “supportive” t-shirts are not befitting of a club of the size of Liverpool, nor with the history and traditions of fighting such worthy causes. A 115-page detailed document was published to back up the FA’s Independent Commission’s verdict that the Uruguayan striker was guilty. It appeared to cover every aspect necessary, but it served only to increase Liverpool’s sense of injustice.
Throughout the saga, statements issued by the club have labelled Patrice Evra an unreliable witness, accused the FA of being biased against them and intimated that Manchester United conjured up the entire accusation just so one of their rivals would be missing one of their better players. While it is understandable that the club want to stand by one of their own - it is abhorrent to do so at the expense of condoning racist acts. Notice, I did not say racism. I do not believe Luis Suarez is racist. But he was racially abusive towards another professional - and his claim that his words were used in a friendly manner would be laughable if the charge wasn’t so serious.
A large section of Liverpool supporters haven’t emerged from events with much credit either. The vast majority I have either spoken to in person or seen on Twitter have blindly supported Suarez without any sympathy for the victim. Football is so tribal, however, that I am perhaps being a little naïve to expect supporters of any clubs to sympathise with a rival player. For evidence of that, just re-watch the FA Cup tie between Liverpool and United, in which Evra was booed every time he touched the ball. Fans are more likely to deem that acceptable when their own club all but endorses it. Just “friendly banter” said Dalglish afterwards. Incidentally the same Dalglish who called on the FA to protect Suarez from booing by Wigan supporters only weeks earlier.
Yes, the best managers always protect their players. But there are ways to do so. Liverpool could have still defended Luis Suarez while at the same time acknowledging that on this occasion, he was in the wrong. What Suarez said to Evra may well be acceptable in Uruguay, but it isn’t in the UK. Perhaps Liverpool could have taken some of the blame themselves for not teaching their new player what is acceptable here.
“It would be fairytale stuff” said the Sky Sports commentator, referring to the possibility that Luis Suarez would come on against Tottenham and score the winner. Funny that, I don’t recall ever being tucked into bed as a child with the story of the man charged with racist abuse making a hero’s return.
English football has come a long way in terms of tackling racism over the last few decades. All clubs must continue to lead the way, and certainly the big clubs such as Liverpool need to be at the forefront. However, on this occasion, Dalglish and Liverpool failed to do so.
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