The beauty of the World Cup—for Americans, at least—is that it exposes so many viewers to the nuances and enjoyments of an unfamiliar sport. This tournament has awoken the typical American sports fan to jaw-dropping goals, spectacular individual displays, unbridled joy followed by crushing disappointment, and now, maybe the most dependable occurrence of them all: Luis Suárez acting like a shithead.
Indeed, this is neither the first time Suárez has made headlines for questionable behavior, nor the first World Cup his villainy has marred, nor even the first time the dude has bitten another man. This is your introduction to Luis Suárez, once nicknamed "the Cannibal of Ajax," soccer's supervillain.
Wait, so he has bitten someone before?
It sounds crazy, right? For many of you, your reaction to watching Suárez nuzzle his face into the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini was "Holy shit, did that guy just bite the other guy?" But for those of us familiar with the Uruguayan's prior exploits, we sat in amazement saying "Yoooo, Luis Suárez just bit another guy again!"
When did this start?
The biting? We were made aware of his predilection for human flesh in November of 2010, back when he played for Dutch team Ajax. Facing bitter (yes, with two T's) rivals PSV, an Ajax player was shown a red card for a tackle the ref deemed excessive. Ajax players surrounded the ref, as is typical, letting him know just how they felt about the card. In that scrum, Suárez got in an argument with PSV's Otman Bakkal, and when reason apparently failed, he came at him with the chompers.
For the bizarre offense, Suárez received a seven match ban. He would never again suit up for Ajax in the Dutch league, though, as he was sold to English club Liverpool in January.
"The biting?" Of course I meant the biting! What, does it start before that?
Actually, yes. In the world's mind, Suárez has been skullduggery incarnate since the 2010 World Cup.
World Cups are famously home-turf friendly. The first tournament was won by host country Uruguay. The second was won by host country Italy. France have only ever won as hosts. Ditto for England. A European team has never won a World Cup in South America, and until Spain won four years ago, a Euro team had only ever won on the home continent.
So when South Africa was named host of the 2010 edition, there was much hope to finally witness a deep African run. The favorites were Ivory Coast, but they couldn't make it out of probably the tourney's toughest group. One African nation that did make a run, however, was Ghana.
The Black Stars made it out of their group, squeaked by a tenacious U.S. team in extra time, and met a Uruguay side few predicted would make it that far. Ghana opened the scoring with a Sulley Muntari blast from distance. Uruguay leveled things with a stupendous Diego Forlán free kick. After 90 minutes, the match was still tied, so it went to extra time.
The extra period, like it often ends up, was a tight affair that looked destined to be settled by penalties. Until this free kick, literally in the last few seconds of open play:
As you can see, Ghana swung in a cross that bounced around in the box until it was forcefully headed en route to a certain goal that Suárez slapped away. He was given a red card and Ghana were awarded a penalty.
But Ghana's breakout star Asamoah Gyan hit the crossbar with his penalty, which delighted Suárez to no end. Uruguay would eventually win on penalties.
The only African team still in the tournament, backed by the support of an entire continent and all the neutrals, were screwed out of an even more outlandish fairytale run because of a cynical, unsporting, exceedingly unfair handball by Luis Suárez.
Ah, so that's where the hate starts.
Yes, but you could even argue that the trend of Suárez's controversial incidents goes back even further. ESPN had a piece not too long ago where Wright Thompson investigated the apocryphal story of a teenaged Suárez, back in Uruguay, headbutting a referee, who was later intimidated by the mobster/fan for not rescinding the young player's punishment.
Thompson finds out that in large part, the story was true; Suárez did receive a red card that would've left him out of the championship-deciding match, and for which he pushed and headbutted the referee in retaliation, though Thompson never found out what happened to the ref. Your mileage may vary on how much you buy that one youthful incident neatly explains the entire career misdeeds of an adult, but nevertheless, he has been known to lash out on the pitch all his life.
Okay, but back to the biting. You seemed to hint that this has happened a few times, not just twice.
Right. In the midst of a Liverpool tenure marked by controversy, Suárez longed for the taste of human flesh. That's the only explanation for why, in a meaningless late-season match against Chelsea in April of 2013, Suárez just had to nibble on some Serbian Elbow Steak.
As has been known in international espionage circles for decades now, once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is true cannibal action. If you are on a pitch with Suárez, you have been put on notice. He will bite.
That seems pretty odd, but I'm not sure I get the hate. Biting is more weird than morally repugnant.
Ah, yes. You may feel differently about Suárez's reported racism.
Wait, he's a racist, too?!
We'll just tell you what happened. Not a year after biting poor old Bakkal in the Netherlands, Suárez once again found himself in hot water in England because of his mouth. In October of 2011 against Liverpool's biggest rival, Manchester United, defender Patrice Evra accused Luis Suárez of racially abusing him. The English Football Association launched an investigation into the matter, an ordeal that lasted months and was extensively, incessantly covered by the British press.
Here's the Daily Mail's account of the purported conversation between the two players:
They squared up to each other and Evra asked why Suárez kicked him. Suárez said he should forget about it, these things happen. Evra claims Suárez then became racially abusive, using the word 'negro'. Suárez denies using the word in that clash. Evra is clearly wound up, but nearby players do not seem particularly bothered.
A few minutes later Marriner calls the pair together. Suárez apologises and tries to pat Evra on the head. It is alleged Evra said: 'Don't touch me, you South American,' to which Suárez replies: 'Porque, negro?'
That seems pretty racist to me.
Well, this is complicated by the fact that apparently, "negro" and/or "negrito" are common terms of endearment in Uruguay. Literally every Uruguayan, including respected Premier League manager Gus Poyet, backed Suárez on that front. And as this SI article delves into, it's a little unfair to call him a racist and disregard this cultural reality.
Still, after playing in Europe and with black players for years by that point, he should've known that what Afro-Uruguayans think is okay isn't the same for all black people. It was unquestionably dickish to say the least.
Plus, he dredged up all those old feelings in the subsequent Manchester United-Liverpool match when he refused to shake Evra's hand in the pregame lineup.
Jeez, Suárez really does suck.
We really could keep listing more reasons to hate him. While serving his 10-match suspension for the Evra incident, he was caught punching a Chilean player in an international match:
After Liverpool stood by him so devoutly during the Evra affair and after snacking on Chelsea's defender, Suárez demanded a transfer to another club in the offseason prior to the campaign that just finished. And after all those public mea culpas, when he insisted he was a changed man, here he is biting folk again.
Man. Why does everyone seem to put up with his shit?
This is what newcomers to the Suárez experience might not fully appreciate; the guy is an absolute beast. Even non-soccer fans know the names of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have talent so transcendent that even people who actively dislike their sport are aware of their greatness.
Well, Luis Suárez, after one of the greatest single goal scoring seasons we've ever seen, has emerged as the only challenger worthy of a third seat among that class. In the strongest European league, Suárez scored 31 goals in 33 games, a tally only rivaled by the video game numbers Messi and Ronaldo put up in the relatively weaker Spanish division. This season, not even those two players outscored him, and he alone of the three did not benefit from taking his team's penalty shots.
He can score any kind of goal you can imagine. He creates more goal-scoring opportunities for his teammates than any elite goal machine, with the possible exception of Messi. Both of those aspects of his game are facilitated by his wonderfully reckless, almost violent dribbling ability that, with his scything elbows and whirling feet, can see him past any number of defenders in any area of the pitch. Watching Luis Suárez play soccer is a gift for every soccer fan and lover of physical artistry, and it's one Suárez continues to rob us of with his boneheaded, inexplicable outbursts.
That's the real reason why Suárez biting people sucks. The last image we likely get of Suárez on a pitch this tournament will be of the player celebrating victory today, somehow content with the day's outcome despite knowing full well that he bit a fellow participant. The FIFA Disciplinary Committee will certainly look at this incident and assign him a lengthy international ban that will at least extend for the rest of this tournament. Who knows whether this will apply to his club career—one that recently seemed destined to reach another level, with Suárez being linked to both Barcelona and Real Madrid, the respective clubs of his only two peers, Messi and Ronaldo.
Maybe he could've bettered his masterful two goal display against England this summer. Maybe he could've redeemed himself from all his past transgressions on the World Cup stage by finally growing past the stupidity he had been known for in an inspiring run to the final. Now, we'll never know. We are once again robbed of the opportunity to marvel at the great things Suárez is able to do on the pitch because of the crazy things Suárez can't help himself from doing on the pitch. For that, more than any real inherent evil or insanity, he deserves to be despised.