REMEMBER when Fonzie jumped the shark? Neither do I, I wasn’t even born either, but you know where I’m going. Anyway, a great many members of the British press did the equivalent of the Happy Days star yesterday.
He’d been too quiet for too long. All these goals, nutmegs, tricks and excitement that he had been serving up just wasn’t cutting it. Who wants consistent effusive praise of his talent when you can denigrate his character, question his morality and ponder whether he is the most despicable person on the planet?
ESPN commentator Jon Champion got things moving. He actually went as far as to call a player a ‘cheat’ on national television. He then started the ball rolling on the ridiculous notion that Suarez had kissed his right wrist to gleefully rub in the fact that he had screwed minnows Mansfield. Champion even used the word ‘nefarious’ for God’s sake! NEFARIOUS!
Twitter predictably went in to meltdown. Alex Ferguson probably found that his glass of red tasted that bit sweeter as he plotted his next bout of ‘mind games’ which will no doubt centre around Luis Suarez again this week. Outrage, vitriol and indignation seeped from the pores of that woman who married the Mansfield chairmen that ESPN gave, actually gave, a live interview to. Everyone regretted the fact that the little cheat from Uruguay had sullied the FA Cup’s good name and denied a deserving non-league team a lucrative replay at Anfield.
Suarez was the bad guy again. Equilibrium was restored.
Then, late last night, the perverse levels of bullshit and spin found their nadir. I ventured over to the Independent’s website to read James Lawton’s take on the events that had unfolded and found quite possibly, the most ridiculous sentence that I’ve ever seen in a football article.
Lawton, a man working for a national newspaper and being paid for it, actually wrote the following words:
‘He looked sheepish enough not to repeat the claim of his fellow South American Diego Maradona that it was the work of God but you didn’t have to be a supporter of Mansfield to believe that he had come off the bench with diabolical intent.’
He probably hit that first shot straight at the goalkeeper on purpose just so that he could handle the ball on the rebound! He probably even wielded a psychic power on the game that made Daniel Sturridge miss that great chance in the first-half just so that his handled goal would be decisive. THAT’S HOW GOOD LUIS SUAREZ IS AT BEING BAD!
Fortunately, in the cold light of day, a great many people have put this whole charade into perspective. Mansfield’s manager Paul Cox and his players refused to condemn Suarez; they correctly bemoaned the incompetent officiating instead. People like Alan Hansen and Gordon Strachan and a great number of journalists who have not sought to follow the lazy path of their peers have also defended the actions of the Liverpool forward, and rightly so.
Yesterday was, as football often is, very cruel. Mansfield as a club did themselves proud on every level. Their gesture of leaving 96 seats with the names of those Liverpool fans lost at Hillsborough was touching. The atmosphere whipped up by their fans was enthralling. The class of their manager after the game was admirable and the performance of their players was fantastic. They deserved a replay yesterday and they didn’t get one because professional referee Andre Marriner and his assistants made a shocking error.
That should have been the narrative from the masses. A bad refereeing call cost a non-league side their chance to play at Anfield and put Liverpool out of the FA Cup.
As we know though, examining the real flaws in football only goes so far in this land. Why bemoan yet more incompetent officiating when a pantomime villain was at the eye of the storm?
The ball hit his hand. He kicked it into the net. He didn’t reverse the referee’s decision. He kissed his daughter’s name that he has tattooed on his wrist as he does after every goal.
Actually, scratch that last one and replace it with this more fitting, agenda-driven narrative: He kissed the hand that he used to put Mansfield out of the FA Cup just to irk the Mansfield fans. He was a cheat and remains a cheat. He is a blight on our national game. He is Suarez the Nefarious!