I wrote at some length here last month about the Suarez/Evra affair. Since then, Liverpool and Manchester United have played one another at the Dipperdrome (2-1 to them in the Cup) and at Old Trafford last Saturday (2-1 to us in the League). Happily there will be no further meetings this season.
As for the football; neither game was particularly memorable for what happened during the 90 minutes, but both were notable for the toxicity of the atmosphere around the game and between the principals in the build-up and aftermath of each.
In many ways, it’s hard to know what to say about this whole sorry mess. Despite my profound dislike of Liverpool FC and my general antipathy towards Merseysiders as a ‘breed’, even I have been astonished by the public relations ‘car crash’ orchestrated by the club over this affair. Wherever they have had the choice to make between a correct decision and an incorrect one, they have unerringly screwed up, to the general amazement of the watching millions around the world. The damage done to the reputation of this once-great club is incalculable and the repercussions will continue to resonate long into the future. Yeah, like I could give a toss….
As for Suarez, who lied about what he said to Evra in front of the FA Commission and presumably maintained his innocence to everyone at LFC who closed ranks and supported him, he has now doubled his jeopardy by lying to everyone -again – about shaking Evra’s hand before the Old Trafford game. Clearly the man has a problem with the truth, but then most of us realised that anyway. Suarez is obviously a talented footballer with a number of fatal flaws, but you could say the same of George Best or Diego Maradona, not that Suarez is as good as either of them.
Evra meets Suarez; the handshake that never was
For me the pantomime villain of this whole dismal business is Kenny Dalglish, who was himself a great player, but who has demonstrated the deft interpersonal skills of a constipated grizzly bear in the way he has handled the media scrum that erupted over this affair. Dalglish’s default mode with the media is one of grumpy mistrust – even more so than Fergie – and this has, of course, always played well in the red areas of Merseyside.
They love nothing more than to gather round a storage heater of an evening and nurse a sense of betrayal and self-pity. The whole world is against them and the media and the FA are in Fergie’s pocket. It’s all a conspiracy designed to prevent King Kenny’s hordes from re-assuming their rightful position at the top of the footballing tree. Et cetera, et cetera. Yawn.
Dalglish’s stupidity – and this has been much in evidence – has been to nail his colours to the mast of these self-pitying fools and to place too much trust in the word of Suarez. He has stoked the fires of resentment that never really go out on Merseyside and has played the ‘Scouse’ card for all it’s worth (not much, actually). For those in thrall to ‘King’ Kenny’s siren song, it’s a well-trodden road that leads from Huyton to Heysel and on to Hillsborough. To the rest of the world, it just makes them look like a bunch of self-deluding idiots. The point is that Dalglish obviously went so far out on a limb for Suarez, dragging the self-pity brigade with him, that he made Suarez believe that he could basically get away with anything and would still retain the backing of the club.
On Saturday, the United fans were singing (to the tune of ‘Sloop John B’) “It’s never your fault, it’s never your fault; you’re always the victims, it’s never your fault.” That’s about right in my book.
Dalglish : Bang out of order in his Sky interview
What happened in the wake of Saturday’s game – Suarez refusing to shake hands with Evra, Dalglish’s belligerent post-match interview with Sky, Fergie finally coming out of his shell to condemn Suarez as a ‘disgrace’ – was as inevitable as it was pathetic. The ‘New York Times’ – the second largest shareholder in the Fenway Sports Group who own Liverpool – came out with a piece suggesting that John Henry and the Boys from Beantown needed to get their act together to salvage something from the wreckage of Liverpool FC and there was a similar piece in the ‘Boston Globe’. With the stench of racism drifting down the Mersey and across the Atlantic, it wasn’t long before FSG finally decided to act.
Suddenly, after months of stony silence, statements were appearing on the LFC website faster than fleas jumping off a dying rat. Suarez apologised for not shaking Evra’s hand, Dalglish apologised for escalating his normal grumpiness into outright hostility in his interview with Sky and waffled on about ‘conduct not befitting a manager of Liverpool’ or words to that effect. Then, hilariously, we got a statement from Liverpool’s Managing Director, Ian Ayre, a man hitherto so invisible that it’s a wonder people weren’t picking up black eyes by walking into him. The (Hitherto) Invisible Man rebuked Suarez for lying to the club – a pity he didn’t do so a few months ago – and blathered on a bit about the responsibilities of anyone playing for Liverpool FC. All too little and too late because as the United fans reminded Suarez throughout the second half of Saturday’s game, ‘we know what you are’.
Ian Ayre finally puts in an appearance
Now, apparently, Liverpool’s shirt sponsor, Standard Chartered, are cutting up rough. They were being lined up as a potential major investor for the possible new Dipperdrome in Stanley Park, but with relations between them and LFC currently as frigid as the February weather, any such deal is looking a remote possibility. Amazing how quickly things start moving once the money men get involved. Dalglish, Suarez and Ayre no doubt had their arses kicked and were obviously told by FSG to get out there and eat some humble pie – something we all knew would happen eventually.
Even so, I took little pleasure from something I knew would happen in the end and that is because, in the final analysis, one bloke has apologised for not shaking another’s hand, another bloke has apologised for being rude to a TV interviewer and the Invisible Man hasn’t apologised to anyone.
The media are lowering the curtain on this one now, mainly because anyone unconnected with LFC or MUFC is probably bored shitless by the whole matter and though it retains a certain fascination for the hacks who must deal with the likes of Dalglish, Ferguson and Suarez on a daily basis, even they know that people just want this to end. Even United’s response to the multiple Liverpool apologies indicated an eagerness to move on…
Understandable, but a pity nonetheless, if only because there are so many important issues that remain unresolved. Such as……
1. Suarez was wrong to make racially charged comments to Evra and wrong not to apologise – preferably immediately. He has still to apologise for these comments.
2. Liverpool were wrong to come out so publicly in support of the Uruguayan over such a sensitive issue and even more at fault when they chose to wear those pikey t-shirts before the Wigan game. So much for ‘Respect’…
3. They were wrong in condemning the findings of an independent commission that found Suarez guilty, especially after he admitted to using the term ‘negro’ in the specific context in which the word was used.
4. Liverpool FC were even more at fault in questioning Evra’s credibility as a witness. Where do they stand with that now that Suarez has been exposed a a serial liar?
5. Dalglish was wrong to suggest that all the ‘facts’ had not emerged from the commission’s hearings (despite their exhaustive report), yet Liverpool FC didn’t have the balls to mount a proper appeal and let the world see what those ‘facts’ were. We’re still waiting….
6. Liverpool fans – all partisan considerations aside – were wrong to victimise Evra further by booing him throughout last month’s FA Cup clash at the Dipperdrome. Then again, did we really expect anything different?
7. Dalglish was wrong to once again claim Suarez should not have been suspended in the build-up to Saturday’s game.
8. Suarez was wrong to snub Evra’s offer of a handshake
9. Suarez should not have lied to the club about his intention to shake Evra’s hand
10. Dalglish was wrong not to condemn him in the immediate aftermath.
11. The intervention of the Fenway Sports Group was anaemic until their ‘income streams’ came under threat. What does this tell us about their attitudes to issues like racism?
It remains to be seen whether or not Suarez and Dalglish can survive this disastrous episode. Had Liverpool not got through to their first Wembley final in years then Dalglish’s position might be under greater threat. He has shown himself incapable of dealing with complex non-football issues like this and may do well to survive the internal blood-letting that will surely follow – particularly if the Standard Chartered deal sinks into the Mersey.
His second term as Liverpool manager is likely to be defined by this affair and you would not bet against him walking away for a second time. Don’t think there would be quite as much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments this time, because on top of the whole Suarez / Evra mess, there’s the issue of his judgement when it comes to shelling out bucketloads of cash for the likes of Downing, Carroll and Henderson.
As for Suarez, good footballer though he is, his credibility is completely shot after this catastrophic episode. Like Tevez, he has gone from hero to zero in pretty short order and if Liverpool get a reasonable offer for him from a Spanish or Italian club in the summer, I would imagine that all parties will grab it with alacrity. His career is going to be forever mired by this episode and his relationships with future team-mates, let alone future opponents – particularly if they’re black – are going to be, at the very least, tricky.