By Brian Reece
The 24th of April 2013, the day the Football Association showed the world undoubtedly that they are out of touch and unfit for purpose.
The 10 match ban handed out to Liverpool’s sensational but problematic Uruguayan striker was nothing more than a PR exercise with a malicious intent. The FA failed not only to pass a fair but deserved punishment to the Reds striker, but missed an opportunity to create standardisation for this and other such offences.
Luis Suarez accepted the charge against him without argument, offering his own personal apology. The club had internally imposed a fine and now awaited a decision by the FA. But what Suarez and LFC didn’t anticipate was the level of punishment the FA would deliver on the back of interference from some media sensationalism and, astonishingly, from the British Prime Minister David Cameron, who one would think had more than football to concentrate on at a time when his nation can scarcely eat and its people are losing their jobs and homes by the thousands.
One fundamental opportunity that passed the Jurassic, out of touch and meaningless talking shop officials at Wembley, was the need to address or even try to evaluate the individual’s mental state as well as the actions of the individual. In no way am I suggesting that Luis Suarez is a raving lunatic but it’s clear to a blind man that Suarez has some form of anger or personal restraint issues.
In the real world when people develop depression, substance abuse problems, mental issues, stress and many other problems we have an infrastructure that is put into action to try and help them cope and recover, and, above all else, help them to become better long term. But in the deluded and blinded world of football, it still seems impermissible for the FA and others in the game to even acknowledge or accept that players can become ill or are in need of professional help.
A deplorable element of this unfortunate situation is the hypocrisy from former players, such as Robbie Savage and Mark Lawrenson, to condemn Suárez. Savage, for me, was one of the most unpopular and talentless players ever to play in the Premiership, whose most memorable ability in my eyes was to assault other players but to then cry like a new born baby when he had the compliment returned. Lawrenson, a former Red, called Suarez a “world class idiot.” Really Mark! This from a player who rode on the back of Alan Hansen to cover his lack of awareness inside the box for years. Both players are ignorant to the fact that some players may need help, not attention seeking articles in the national papers or when covering for real experts on Match of the Day.
The actual act was deliberate so there was no other alternative but for the FA to charge Suarez with violent conduct, but it’s the way the FA have allowed themselves to cave in from political and media interference which makes their decision look simply non-independent and farcical. What makes the FA look even more ridiculous and no longer fit for purpose is its almost deliberate inconsistent punishments.
One punishment should be set for every type of offence, violent conduct for example bears a mandatory three match ban, but the FA seem to be able to impose whatever punishment they deem fit, the inconsistency becomes apparent when two incidents of the exact same offence are given two different combinations of fines and match bans. It simply has to change, the whole disciplinary procedure must be overhauled and set terms cast regardless of what club or league the player is part of.
The FA want people to believe that they want fairness, equality and faith in football, well I’m sorry, I’m certainly not buying that at all. The FA know sweet FA about our game or how to manage the regulation of it, the association is run by yes men in grey suits who have no idea what the fans want from their footballing experience or what support the clubs need to deal with players who may be developing issues regarding their behaviour or mental state.
While Suarez was banned for 8 matches for the racial abuse of Evra, England’s former captain and FA blue eyed boy John Terry only received a 4 match ban, despite the moral pathfinders at Wembley claiming that Suarez was made an example of and used as a deterrent to other players. Well that clearly does not count if you’re an England player or personal favourite of the men in grey.
Do I believe Suarez has been victimised? Yes. Do I believe Suarez was given such an unfair ban because it’s Luis Suarez? Yes. Do I believe the FA are cowards and corrupt? Yes. And do I believe that if it was another player the same ban and fine would apply? No.
There are some who say, ‘well Suarez has done this before and clearly hasn’t learnt his lesson and the 10 match ban is appropriate.’ There are credible arguments to support that view, but this is why it’s so important to acknowledge that maybe a player is going through difficult times or stress, and to seek advice and help from health care professionals, if only as a precautionary measure.
The fact is Luis Suarez is an easy target simply because of a combination of self-inflicted trouble and negative media perception, the game needs players like Suarez just as it did with the likes of Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Eric Cantona, Chopper Harris, Norman Hunter, George Best, Tommy Smith and Paolo Di Canio, all great players, all with an element of spark and fire inside them, but that is what made them so entertaining and great to watch.
Our game has changed and so must the FA if it’s to be seen as a creditable association; it also needs a working infrastructure in place to help clubs and players become better individuals both on and off the pitch. If not then the FA should just stay inside their underground bunker and read each other bedtime stories while drinking hot chocolate and eating custard creams. Players are people too, anyone can become ill or have problems, but it’s what help the individual gets and how they are dealt with that is the most important aspect.
Brian is a footballing author, a lifelong LFC fan and a FWA member. Follow him on Twitter: @oldfattoad.