Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Suarez, and all that

We tend to assume, in writing this blog, that our audience don’t live on Mars or, at least, if they do, they’ve found a way of watching the World Cup from there. So you’ll all by now have seen the footage of Luis Suarez “appearing to bite” Giorgio Chiellini during the late stages of the Italy v Uruguay match yesterday.

Little about the incident makes immediate sense to the observer. There seemed to be even less build-up or provocation ahead of the event that there was in the incident between Suarez and Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic. Suarez simply trots into the area as normal for a corner, jostles gently with Chiellini for the briefest time, and then… what?

That a deeper question than first may appear. For just what is it we are seeing, here? To watch Suarez yesterday, or to watch him take hold of Ivanovic’s arm and sink his teeth into it as one might a chicken wing straight off the barbecue, is to watch a man driven by forces we can’t readily comprehend. Likewise to watch him spring forth to bite Omar Bakkal’s neck, Dracula style, while playing for Ajax is to wonder what urges must be taking hold of his psyche. To bite another man would be considered a savage and disturbing thing to do if done when drunk, provoked and angry. In the course of an international football match, it is time-stopping in its dreadfulness, a moment of primal violence bursting in on the most managed and sanitized of modern sporting contests.

What on earth must possess a man, who himself has gone through the wringer of public opprobrium and, I don’t doubt, private self-disgust after biting on the field twice before, to do the same thing again on the biggest stage of all?

Frankly we are at the edges, here, of what we as sports fans and writers can comprehend or explain. Football needs to contemplate that one of its greatest current practitioners may be afflicted by something that is entirely beyond the capabilities of the sport, with its limited vocabulary, its narrow, still macho and blue-collar, frame of reference, and its cumbersome disciplinary procedures, to put right. Is there something badly wrong with Luis Suarez? It would seem inappropriate to speculate about matters of mental health, so perhaps we should just observe. Suarez’s shy and evasive demeanour when interviewed about the Ajax incident, and his play-acting on the field yesterday apparently to evade censure, have a childish quality about them, and biting, after all, is what toddlers do when frustrated or angry. His contrition after the Ivanovic incident meanwhile seemed, to this writer anyway, entirely genuine.  We must acknowledge the possibility that club suspensions and international bans are entirely inadequate measures, ineffectual and possibly unjust attempts to activate punishment-response mechanisms that simply aren’t found in this area of the player’s psyche. Luis Suarez at moments like this seems more tormented child than simple thug. We do not understand what it is that afflicts him.

If genius has a childlike quality, then perhaps yesterday's events were the dark side of that.

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