Monday 22 April 2013

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Luis Suárez?

He may have already won the PFA Player's Player of the Year award (the votes were sent in before Liverpool's clash with Chelsea on Sunday afternoon), and if it is revealed he has earned the respect of his fellow footballers at at the end of the season, the FA will undoubtedly be left red-faced as the controversial Uruguayan has caused outrage in the Premier League yet again with his apparent attempt to bite Branislav Ivanović.

Obviously, within the last 24 hours there have been innumerable calls to ban and fine the 26 year old attacker, and people are well within their rights to wish this. The video footage is damning, and Suárez of course has previous history in using his teeth to harm an opponent; many of you will remember that he sank his teeth into Ottman Bakkal during his days in the Eredivisie with Ajax. It goes without saying that this kind of behaviour is inexcusable on the football pitch, and many would not bat an eyelid were Liverpool to say 'enough is enough' and move the South American on for a giant fee in the summer.

To do so would be a huge mistake. My problem with this idea of Suárez is that many feel that he is a Machiavellian malefactor, always looking to cause trouble, incite mayhem, and endanger the game of football. This is definitely not the case. I doubt there is a professional player on earth who contains a pathological desire to play in such a way, and it certainly isn't Suárez.

His is an enviable talent; his close control is an absolute joy to behold, his movement is as swift and deadly as a rattlesnake, and his penchant for the outrageous and unthinkable are the reason Liverpool have looked more threatening this term. His problem however, seems to lie with a case of a quick temper, and seeming ignorance of the world around him whenever he steps on the football pitch.

Growing up playing as such a nimble trickster would no doubt have bought fouls in from every angle, and the retaliation that Suárez is accustomed to dishing out is a manifestation of this. We in England saw the same problem with one of our own young, sparkling talents, Wayne Rooney. Cast your minds back to the World Cup in Germany, 2006, and the quarter-final against Portugal. Rooney tries to fight his way past a persistent Ricardo Carvalho who tugs and tugs at the white England shirt until Rooney can take no more. In retaliation and frustration, he plants his foot between the legs of the Portuguese defender, in an act that made men around the world wince, regardless of nationality.

He was a young man who saw the red mist far too frequently, and it is a credit to Sir Alex Ferguson and the Manchester United management that he has managed in recent years to reign in the raging temper within. Without them, it could be argued Rooney would have descended down a long path to self-destruction on the football field, an erratic talent that some would deem to volatile to deal with.

Which brings me back to Suárez. What is clear from his violent and dangerous outbursts is that he has a clear problem with controlling his anger on the football pitch. When things are going right for him, there is no smile bigger than his on the pitch. But when he is having a frustrating afternoon, it feels as if the papers are on their haunches in anticipation, ready to pounce and prepare their headlines for the following morning's sport sections.

I honestly believe it is a matter of education for Luis Suárez. I don't see evidence that any manager in his past has actively tried to deal with his anger problem, which is a sad indictment on modern football. Either they were too scared to try, for fear of offending him and losing him to another club, or for fear of nullifying the unpredictable spark that sets him off like a whirling, shrieking Catherine wheel on the football pitch. This is set to be a testing time for Brendan Rodgers, his current manager, who wishes to start a new dynasty of success at Anfield. Aiming to sort Suárez out should be his number one priority.

For the Premier League's sake, I hope Rodgers has the ability and bravery to stick with Suárez and try to educate him in a better way. Anger management courses, one-to-one talks to remind him of the fact he is a role model, family interventions - whatever it takes. It would be too sad to see such a great talent go to waste when we should instead be aiming to help him better himself; not just as a footballer, but as a man.

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