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Suarez Handshake: Liverpool Should Stand By Their Man

Tuesday 14th February 2012
Following Manchester United's 2-1 win against Liverpool on Saturday, Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to brand Luis Suarez “a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club” who “should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again”.

As has been well documented, the pre-match handshake before this fixture will be remembered for the handshake that never was. Patrice Evra extended his hand to Suarez, who pointedly missed him out as he made his way down the line up.

Evra angrily pulled on the Uruguayan player's arm, but the handshake still did not take place. The pair had been at the heart of an incident in the reverse fixture at Anfield. The matter flared up in the goalmouth in front of Liverpool's famous Kop and after the Anfield game, it emerged that Evra alleged that Suarez had racially abused him.

The FA charged Suarez, and eventually found him guilty, handing him an eight match ban.

There can be absolutely no doubt that racism is intolerable in modern society, never mind modern football. It is equally incontrovertible that while ever the pantomime of the pre-match handshake remains in place all players have a duty to shake hands with one another.

The firmest fact of all, is that Suarez did himself no favours at all in avoiding the handshake. Whatever was truly said between these two players at Anfield will probably only ever be known to them, in declining the handshake, whatever his motive, Suarez made up the rest of the country's minds for them.

Racism within football is a hot topic at the moment, and there has been plenty said and written on the subject. There is really only one thing that needs saying. It is beyond endurance.

The more complex issue raised by this incident is how a club should manage a player involved in such a high profile controversy. Whatever else Suarez was plainly misguided in his unsporting decision not to shake Evra's hand. So we return to Ferguson's comment: Should it really be the case that Suarez should not play for Liverpool again?

It is difficult to know whether that comment from Ferguson was made in the heat of the moment, or whether it was slightly disingenuous and carefully designed to put pressure on Liverpool. One thing is for sure if Sir Alex did mean what he said, it does not sit comfortably with his own support for one Eric Cantona, in 1995.

Cantona was sent from the field of play after a kick on Richard Shaw during an away game at Crystal Palace. On his way from the pitch, and in response to apparent goading by Palace fans, Cantona leapt over the advertising hoardings, aiming his famous “kung fu” kick at one of the Palace fans, followed by several punches.

Cantona's ban was eventually set at eight months, by the FA, this was eventually extended to be a global ban by FIFA to prevent Cantona from transferring elsewhere to avoid the ban. Cantona was also convicted of assault, over the incident. There were suggestions thatther Frenchman would leave upon completion of his ban, but Ferguson persuaded the him to stay.

Indeed Ferguson is quoted as having said; “I don't think any player in the history of football will get the sentence he got unless they had killed [then FA Chairman] Bert Millichip's dog. When someone is doing well we have to knock him down.”

Suarez is certainly doing well.

Ferguson stood by his man, who went on to win another two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and one Charity Shield, during his time at Old Trafford after the incident. How can Ferguson reasonably expect Kenny Dalglish not to do exactly the same thing?

Football is a multi-million pound business, as well as the national game. Multi-million pound businesses do not offload prime assets on the cheap. Just ask fans of Sheffield Wednesday.

The Owls may now be languishing in League One but in 1998 were an established Premier League outfit. In September of that year, their own overseas star, Paolo Di Canio received a red card in a game against Arsenal at Hillsborough.

The fiery Italian registered his disapproval by pushing referee, Paul Alcock square in the chest. The off balance official staggered backwards, arms flailing eventually landing in a heap on the turf. Di Canio was subsequently banned for eleven games.

Neither the Wednesday board nor their management stood by Di Canio, and so he went AWOL, eventually producing a doctor's certificate citing stress. Wednesday's record signing brought in for a deal worth £4.2 million pounds in 1997, was sold for just £1.7 million in January 1999.

This decision is but one example of a catalogue of poor footballing and financial decisions that led to Wednesday's current predicament. The Owls fans cite a range of self serving reasons that the club's hierarchy hung Di Canio out to dry. Regardless of the whys and wherefores, Sheffield Wednesday exited the top flight of English football in 2000, so far yet to return.

There is no suggestion, of course, that Suarez leaving Liverpool would prove so catastrophic, only that Alex Ferguson's contention that he should never play for Liverpool again should be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

History shows that when a club doesn't stand by a key player in a time of self-inflicted controversy, they can be left regretting the fact for decades. Further, when push comes to shove Ferguson will defend his own stars whatever the nature of the controversy.

Liverpool Football Club are absolutely correct to stand by their player until the fuss surrounding his indiscretion blows over. An arm round the shoulder of Suarez and some good advice has lead to a suitably contrite apology from both player and club, and will hopefully bring a genuine change in behaviour and attitude. It seems unlikely that Liverpool would feel that their reputation could suitably withstand further negative press brought about from Suarez's behaviour. Suarez really must get it right this time.

It was remiss, of Sir Alex Ferguson, to say that another club's player should not play again, but it is absolutely right to label racism however it manifests as a disgrace on all involved. It would be wonderful if football could lead by example.
Richard Brook

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