DISCLAIMER: As most of you know I am a Liverpool fan. This may bias my opinion, despite all my efforts to remain impartial. I apologise in advance.
Almost year ago, before E.L.James inspired the name of my current column, I wrote this piece about how the FA Cup had lost its magic. In light of this weekend’s excellent allotment of cup ties, it may be worth a read. It’s not very long.
In today’s ‘i’ newspaper, the Independent’s little brother, which now sells more than its elder sibling, James Lawton, the chief sports writer, branded Luis Suarez’s winning goal against Mansfield a “diabolical act”, and claimed that Suarez “came off the bench with diabolical intent”.
I have a huge amount of respect for James Lawton, but I think on this occasion, melodrama has got the better of him. Firstly, he appears to be claiming that when Rodgers told Suarez to do up his laces and peel off his stylish tracksuit top, that he immediately decided “right, I’m going to cheat Mansfield here”. That is certainly a claim which no-one may make. It may be said that Suarez plays to win, and that he will break the rules in order to do so, on the assumption that sometimes he will get caught, but to brand him some sort of evil genius falls in the same category as “Howard Webb is on the United payroll” and “the moon landings never happened”.
There is a real danger of this turning into a debate about whether it is right to bend the rules and assume that if the referee doesn’t catch you, then it’s okay. It is an argument which has been had many a time, and you either fall on one side of the debate or on the other. My beef is with the hysteria over this specific incident.
Watching the replay of the goal, it is clear that the ball pin-balls around off the keeper, and strikes Suarez’s arm, which is, to be fair, already outstretched.
If there is any movement towards the ball, then it is minor, and instinctive. He then finds himself 2 yards out from an open goal. If you can find me a professional striker who will go on record and honestly and convincingly say that he would have kicked the ball out, or stopped entirely, instead of putting it away, then I will find you a sober alcoholic and an honest spy. It is ludicrous to suppose anything else.
The next issue is of course that he kissed his hand in front of the home fans in celebration. Any Liverpool fan knows that he celebrates every goal by kissing the tattoo of his daughter’s name on the inside of his wrist. That is simply unfortunate confusion.
Finally, there is the simple fact that despite Suarez’s reputation, I honestly believe he is changing. Maybe it’s the good form, maybe it’s Brendan Rodgers, or maybe it’s just that all the abuse has finally got to him; I don’t know, but I do know that he is staying on his feet more, he rolls around less, and he is generally getting on with his job. Which he is doing quite brilliantly.
Now that all sounds distinctly biased I know, but it is difficult to see it any other way. I certainly think that the fact that it was what turned out to be a winner, in a cup tie, at a non-league ground, makes it far easier to criminalise him for the romantics of the game. I certainly am one of those, but I can’t write off someone who did exactly what thousands of others, and I myself, would have done in the same situation.
He is now one of only two players (Victor Moses being the other) to have scored in all four major competitions in which he has competed this year. His form is impeccable, and as far as he is concerned, the media can take a running jump: let’s see if it stops him scoring.
Disagree? Would you have Suarez retrospectively banned and branded a cheat? Or do you see it as part of the game and something the referee should have seen? Join the debate on Twitter by tweeting me at @sport_thesaint.