Early Doors

Suarez not to blame for Mansfield heartbreak

Luis Suarez certainly knows how to pick his targets, doesn't he?

After leaving the entire continent of Africa devastated when helping to eliminate its final representative in its first World Cup, on Sunday he decided to dump all over the romance of football's oldest and grandest domestic cup competition with another dastardly handball.

Except for the fact that he didn't. Not really anyway.

His handy intervention against Mansfeld, batting the ball down with his palm before smashing it home, certainly proved important. Without it Liverpool could have drawn 1-1 against non-league opposition - a stinging embarrassment for a club that put out a very decent side for their trip to Field Mill, even if Suarez was watching from the bench when Daniel Sturridge opened the scoring on debut.

And if the romance of the cup, which now largely resides in grainy videos of famous giant-killings of the past and the scripts of obsequious TV presenters and commentators, can be said to persist, surely it is at Mansfield, whose manager was married the day before the Liverpool match and whose chief executive is the key character in a modern love story. A heartwarming tale, for sure, and one that is only enhanced by the fact she now shares a surname with the ultimate third-round hero, Ronnie Radford.

Yet the clamour to brand Suarez the degenerate villain once again was as embarrassing as it was predictable.

As a fully paid-up member of the London-centric, Scouse-hating media, Early Doors of course needs no excuse to continue an insidious agenda against Liverpool and Suarez. But on this occasion, the fault did not lie with the Premier League's pantomime villain.

It was certainly a handball - any other reading of the situation would be delusional - yet given the reaction time involved it could hardly be said to be a villainous, pre-meditated act. This was an act of instinct, a twitch of a muscle group. Not quite involuntary but not entirely deliberate either. At least not in the way that a dribble, a free-kick or repeatedly racially abusing someone is.

The base fact remains that it was the referee and his assistants who failed to do their jobs and disallow the goal. This was a failure of officiating, not a failure of humanity or morality on Suarez's part.

And once it had gone in, what was he supposed to do?

Well, celebrating in his usual fashion by kissing his wrist was probably a touch inadvisable, but there are some who have suggested, apparently with a straight face, that Suarez should have owned up to the misdemeanour and asked the ref to chalk off the goal.

Another great Liverpool forward once displayed laudable sportsmanship when telling a match official he did not deserve a penalty as David Seaman hadn't touched him in the box, but Robbie Fowler's gesture in 1997 remains a glaring anomaly in football's lengthy history of winning at all costs. Players don't go about going the referee's job for them, and norshould we expect them to.

As football oracle Gary Neville said when examining Gareth Bale's penchant for simulation recently, if you are offended by players pushing the limits in order to win, then "go and sing in the choir. Go and play the violin, play the recorder."

Arguing that Suarez should have owned up is patently ludicrous. Should defenders admit when they trip a forward in the box? Should players approach a referee and say, 'actually, I think I deserved a red card for that tackle?'

As Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said: "It's not his job to own up. It's hit his hand but what do you want him to do in that situation? I don't think it's even a discussion [that he should have owned up] and I don't think people would ask the question if it was anyone else.

"The ball has popped up, it's hit him and, after that, it is up to the officials what they do. I said to the fourth official straight away: 'Was that handball?' and he said they had seen it but they decided that it was not deliberate. It's not his fault."

Not for the first time, though, Suarez has been held to a ridiculously high standard that almost all professionals would fail to match.

Two-and-a-half years ago, the demonisation of the Uruguay forward for his handball off the line against Ghana was utterly bizarre: he was doing the only thing he could to keep alive his country's hopes at the World Cup and was sacrificing himself in the process. There was even something quite noble about it.

The Mansfield incident is much harder to paint in such terms - and no one would try. Yet the anger generated is similarly misplaced.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Luis Suarez. ED has covered them ad nauseum. But to label him the great enemy of English football over Sunday's handball would be terribly unfair.

Asked if he would have complained if one of his players had scored a goal like that, Mansfield manager Paul Cox admitted he would not.

"I can't be two-faced on that," he said.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I'm always keen to help him and keep him going through these kind of moments, so he doesn't make the same mistakes that I did in the past. I try to help Mario. I talk to him personally, on and off the pitch. I've been in that moment like him." - Carlos Tevez emerges as an unlikely counsellor for Mario Balotelli at Manchester City.

FOREIGN VIEW: "If they whistle me for leaving Iker on the bench, fine, and if they whistle me for poor performances, that's okay by me. I don't want to be a hero all the time, independent of my performances." - Jose Mourinho's love-hate relationship with the Real Madrid fans continues after leaving Iker Casillas on the bench again. The keeper was required after only six minutes though as replacement Antonio Adan gave away a penalty and was sent off in a 4-3 win over Real Sociedad.

COMING UP: The FA Cup weekend hasn't finished just yet as tonight we have live text commentary on the third-round tie between Cheltenham and Everton. Just as the second half is getting underway, FIFA will announce the winner of its Ballon d'Or award, with Lionel Messi the hot favourite to prevail over Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta. We will be streaming the ceremony live, so make sure you don't miss it.