One of the repeated refrains of this Premier League season has been the supposed rehabilitation of Luis Suarez; once the devil incarnate but now, supposedly, a cheery, reformed figure whose only noteworthy characteristic is his incisive attacking play, and not his over-active incisors.
Apparently the act of scoring lots and lots and lots of goals – and being gracious enough to attend a fans’ award ceremony in December where, according to the Telegraph, he was a “picture of humility” as he picked up the Football Supporters’ Federation Player of the Year – has been enough to allow many to forgive and forget his racial abuse of Patrice Evra.
Collecting this award was, according to the Telegraph, a moment of “redemption” for our Uruguayan rogue, part of a process which has seen him rehabilitated in the public eye. In a society that finds itself enthralled by “the journey” undertaken by downtrodden reality show contestants, or more historically, the fall and rise of mythical heroes, completing the Suarez circle was a neat and rather alluring account: from disgrace to embrace.
There is no doubt that in purely sporting terms, Suarez has been exceptional this season. But claiming he has enjoyed a "redemption" has wider connotations than sport alone. It takes his character and his wider behaviour into account as well.
And, as the cliché goes, before someone can be truly rehabilitated, they must admit there is a problem. Yet, Suarez has singularly, abjectly refused to do just that. Still he maintains he was the wronged party in this sorry affair.
At a time when Liverpool have done their best to move on from a controversy that became so toxic that their sponsors had to intervene when Suarez, lamentably, refused to shake Evra’s hand in February 2012, the striker has unwisely chosen to speak once again about his treatment at the hands of the FA.
“Let me tell you,” Suarez said on Thursday. “I've made only two mistakes in my career. My first was when I was playing for Ajax and I bit an opponent. My second was when I bit (Branislav) Ivanovic.
"The case with (Patrice) Evra was all false. I was accused without proof. But that's in the past. I was sad at that moment, but I'm happy today. I have grown up. I have thought more about things before doing them.
"Now people in England can't talk about me because I'm not doing anything wrong. They have to talk about me only as a footballer. I said I'm sorry (after the Ivanovic bite) and that was all, end of story. I've nothing else to regret. All the other things were like a movie that people in England believed in."
It would be enough to make you incredulous had Suarez not maintained this stance ever since he admitted, admitted, using the word ‘negro’ to Evra. Repeatedly he has portrayed the FA’s eight-game suspension as a fait accompli, a most disgraceful abuse of power. At one stage he even tried to suggest it was the result of a Manchester United-led conspiracy. Everyone’s fault but his own.
And accused without proof? Both Dirk Kuyt and Damien Comolli offered testimony to the FA that was damning to Suarez, not that you will ever hear him mention that. In Suarez’s world, the whole thing has been entirely cooked up.
To delve too deep into the FA judgement is, by now, pointless. More than two years after its publication, the same mistruths are being disseminated by those of a certain persuasion; glaring passages are still passed over, if indeed they have been read at all. By this point, you will no doubt have decided on your opinion and will be sticking by it.
That Suarez continues to show similar inflexibility is a matter of some regret. What is clear, though, is that despite admitting using a term referencing Evra’s colour in what was a heated exchange, Suarez steadfastly believes he was not in any way being racist. But Suarez does not get to decide what can be construed as racist or not – the victim does, and then the body deciding whether to impose a subsequent punishment.
To hear Suarez speak on the matter - repeatedly over the years – you might get the impression that he is the victim of the piece. Yet nothing can be further from the truth. And the real victim, Evra, has yet to receive any kind of apology from the player who racially abused him on a football pitch.
Until there is an apology, and until there is even a flicker of recognition from Suarez, then the rehabilitative process cannot be started, let alone concluded. For all the talk of redemption and new beginnings, Suarez’s latest interview proves there has been no progress in one key regard, no matter how many goals he scores or how many awards ceremonies he attends.
We can celebrate his performances all we like, and recognise him for what he is: the Premier League's best and most potent forward, but let's not make unsustainable claims about other forms of progress while still an apology to Evra is unforthcoming.
Tom Adams - @tomEurosport
- Sports & Recreation
- Luis Suarez
- Patrice Evra