The Luis Suarez affair took a dramatic wrong turn at Old Trafford on Saturday, with a pre-match handshake taking all the headlines away from a 2-1 win for Manchester United.
Whilst Liverpool fans will have been devastated by the defeat to their great rivals, the unsavory incident before kick-off will also leave a bad taste in the mouth as the Reds' great name currently takes a hammering.
A club steeped in history, Kenny Dalglish's side found themselves on the front page of the New York Times as the race row managed to make headlines across the Atlantic. As a shareholder in Fenway Sports Group, the paper decided a statement was needed.
Both Liverpool as a club and Suarez as an individual have issued apologies, with the Uruguayan admitting an error in judgement when opting against the handshake. The fact he had told the club that he would offer the gesture of sportsmanship adds to the bad feeling within the camp.
"I have spoken with the manager since the game at Old Trafford and I realise I got things wrong. I've not only let him down, but also the Club and what it stands for and I'm sorry. I made a mistake and I regret what happened,” read a statement from Suarez on the official Liverpool website.
"I should have shaken Patrice Evra's hand before the game and I want to apologise for my actions. I would like to put this whole issue behind me and concentrate on playing football."
The general consensus is that this apology is not enough. And, whilst he hints at it specifically, Suarez does not directly apologise to Patrice Evra. To move on fully from this issue, it’s something he will have to do and a message that’s supported by the chief executive of ‘show racism the red card’.
“The apology is a good start but there is one person that Luis Suarez has not said sorry to in his official statement which I have read on the Liverpool Football Club website and that is Patrice Evra,” said Ged Grebby.
“One thing I think he needs to do now is make a full apology and get it to Patrice Evra – never mind just saying sorry for letting down Liverpool Football Club.
Suarez’s eight-match ban for racially abusing the French full-back is clearly and understandably still raw.
Found guilty by the FA, the former Ajax man has protested his innocence throughout and has been fully supported by the club and, more importantly, manager Kenny Dalglish.
The first cracks have started to show this weekend though, with an official club statement from managing director Ian Ayre expressing disappointment in the actions of last January’s signing.
"We are extremely disappointed Luis Suarez did not shake hands with Patrice Evra before yesterday's game. The player had told us beforehand that he would, but then chose not to do so.
"He was wrong to mislead us and wrong not to offer his hand to Patrice Evra. He has not only let himself down, but also Kenny Dalglish, his teammates and the Club. It has been made absolutely clear to Luis Suarez that his behaviour was not acceptable.
"Luis Suarez has now apologised for his actions which was the right thing to do. However, all of us have a duty to behave in a responsible manner and we hope that he now understands what is expected of anyone representing Liverpool Football Club."
Behind closed doors, one can only imagine that Suarez has received an ear-bashing from some high-powered figures at the club. He will have to take it on the chin if he’s willing to maintain his place as Liverpool’s star striker.
And there lies a key point in this whole episode. Suarez is key to the club. From a business perspective, he was a major investment at over £20 million only 13 months ago.
On the pitch, his style of play quickly earned the respect and admiration of the fans, and whilst he hasn’t scored as many goals as hoped for this month, he remains the Reds’ most potent attacking threat. His consolation proved that.
Is this relevant, given the nature of the issue we’re talking about? Unfortunately, it is. Like it or not, football is a business, and Liverpool will be more successful with the player in the team rather than out of it.
Currently, that argument is countered with the notion that Suarez is bringing the brand value of Liverpool down as a whole. But, it’s a situation that can be retrieved. Recognising the mistake is half the battle, and the 25-year-old knows he made an error.
Up to the weekend, Liverpool had shown their striker unequivocal support. Today’s paper rumours suggest that might not be the case anymore, and that his time at Anfield could be coming to a close.
But a quick sale simply wouldn’t make sense after their previous efforts to defender their player. It’s literally been months of effort in showing that Suarez remains in the club’s plans, and that the players are behind their teammate. That could have changed over the weekend, but the former Nacional starlet must work to convince them again that he remains good for the club.
Liverpool’s name isn’t the only thing to be tarnished by this incident, with football’s image again affected by this additional incident after the original confrontation on Merseyside.
But, old wounds can heel, and all parties can gain closure from the incident. Suarez, the chief protagonist and enemy No.1 in the eyes of many, has made the right move in issuing his initial apology.
With the continued backing of Liverpool, he can take further steps to enhance both his own and the club’s reputation, but the key will be sticking together.
In the long term, it will be the right thing for all parties.
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