Luis Suárez – unfairly treated by the media or should he bite the bullet?

There is a sizeable list of extremely talented football players and managers with a passionate grudge against the English press that is beginning to take form. Luis Suárez is the latest addition following his recent comments to a Uruguayan radio station claiming that the English media have “attacked him unfairly” and “haven’t appreciated him as a player, just judged his attitude”, before revealing that this ‘attacking’ could force him to switch countries.

Before I begin dissecting those comments in retrospect to Suarez’s über-controversial career, and ponder what lies ahead for the troubled Liverpool striker, let’s take a look at some other big Premier League characters who have had problems with the press, and see if we can shed some light onto this issue.

Rewind back to 2005 and it’s José Mourinho’s first season in England. During Chelsea’s League Cup final triumph over Liverpool, their new hero Mourinho was sent off the pitch for making hand gestures (finger over lips, ala ‘be quiet’) that appeared to be directed at the Liverpool supporters.

However, after the match Jose claimed that the signal was for the press, saying that: “they speak too much, and in my opinion they do everything they can to disturb Chelsea”. He added that the media try to take confidence from, and put pressure on Chelsea. In my opinion, these views sound as if he felt completely alienated from, and even victimised by, the media – and this is only after being in England for less than a year.

The ever-animated, former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli also lambasted the English press on a couple of occasions. In November 2011 he said he was frustrated by the media’s portrayal of his character, and said: “they tend to talk more about my private life than what I do on the field”, which was mirrored by Suarez’s above comments.

Just after leaving City for AC Milan in this year’s January transfer window, Balotelli took another swipe at the English press; he stated that he wouldn’t miss them, and that they only ever spoke badly about him, which has a ring of victimisation to it, reminiscent of Mourinho’s 2005 words.

Ashley Cole is another star known to have a turbulent relationship with the media. However, he probably took up more column time in Heat magazine than the sports pages, due to his previous marriage with pop-star Cheryl Cole, and the extra-curricular activities he partook in during it.

The question is though, from where does this sense of mistreatment by the media stem?

In Suarez’s case, the media would have a difficult time avoiding the unflattering controversies that have not just stained, but completely soiled his career. This is a man whose extensive list of behavioural mishaps includes racism, two separate biting incidents, and attempting to punch another player in the face.

The Uruguayan claims that the English media “haven’t appreciated him as a player”, I tend to disagree, and believe that his undoubted gift as a footballer is widely accepted and documented, however it is just overshadowed by his escapades.

Let’s take a look at what some journalists and pundits had to say at the time of Suarez’s bite on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanović, which he is currently in the middle of serving a 10-match ban for.

BBC’s Mark Lawrenson said:

“He’s a world-class player, but he gives you world-class trouble”

Which is fair, and a clear acknowledgement of Suarez’s ability on the pitch.

Match of the Day analyst Alan Hansen went as far as to say:

“He’s a brilliant player who’s had a brilliant season, so if Liverpool get rid of him, they will be the losers”

Another backing of Suarez’s footballing greatness, and this time backing Liverpool to stick with him too.
Someone who echoed that notion is arguably Britain’s top football pundit, Gary Neville:

“The idea that Suarez should be thrown overboard, and that he should never play for Liverpool again, is nonsense and it’s an overreaction”

Award-winning sports journalist Oliver Holt, who writes for the Daily Mirror, also felt that there had been an overreaction to the incident:

“It became a witch-hunt very quickly, and I do feel the FA were punishing the man and not the offence [with the 10-match ban]”

So, these examples seem to show top figures in the British sports press giving reasoned opinions on the incident, showing some support and sympathy for Suarez, and certainly acknowledging his talent on the football pitch; which makes Suarez’s latest comments seem rather unfounded.

Of course, the media largely condemned the biting incident, as I believe is appropriate for an unprovoked bite on an opponent, which has no place in the game. Oddly, even Zimbabwe’s dictatorial president Robert Mugabe condemned the action:

“It was highly unprofessional for Luis Suarez to bite Branislav Ivanovic. Sporting events are contests and not declarations of war”

I find it quite sickeningly amusing that a man of his nature even took the time to comment on this incident, but I’ll let you form your own opinion on that one…

Back to Mourinho and Balotelli, and in my opinion they were such dynamic characters that the media just fed off them. Mourinho’s elegant arrogance made him a perfect target for the media to wind up like a toy, and then let him go speeding off into a flurry of outbursts and gestures.

The stories, and myths, that emerged about Balotelli’s off-field antics were simply too entertaining for the press not to latch on to. He was their dream subject, and I’m sure there were many exaggerations and false stories that Mario had a right to be upset about.

That said, this article was not attempting to defend the English press, but just to understand where some of the hatred is rooted from, because as far as I can see there has been nothing too malicious or unreasonable from their direction.

So, what next for Luis Suarez? Were his comments designed to wave a “For Sale” sign in the faces of Real Madrid as they begin their summer shopping? Madrid president Florentino Pérez has this week hinted that the striker is a target, stating that he “likes” Suarez, so this could be a possibility.

Surely Suarez will have worries over the Spanish media though, it was Madrid-based newspaper Marca that just this February labelled Wayne Rooney as a “freckled demon” and a “footballer and hooligan wrapped into one”. Oh wait, ‘freckled demon’? Is that a hint of racism? Suarez should get on with them just fine…

Freelance football writer based in London. Arsenal fan, but write about a range of English and European football. Twitter: @FinsburyFooty
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