Let’s be clear about this:
The Luis Suarez transfer is a vile, disgusting act by desperate men, a board trying to save its power-hungry asses and a new coach who doesn’t want to be like his predecessor. It’s at the terminus of an arc of lies and neglect of a sporting project.
At the end of the mountain of bollocks strewn by this board in the name of furthering its project is just the latest piece of crap in a veritable deluge of the stuff. Those sluggards didn’t even have the nerve to say to their new coaching hire “Yes we are supposed to just get you the players that you ask for, but we have to draw the line somewhere.”
The Luis Suarez signing was completed today, for a fee that nobody will ever know, ironic from a board that steeped its initial pitches in “transparency.” It’s also just one more bit of skullduggery from a group that is ostensibly running an organization for the good of the entity. But there is nothing good about this deal, not even the goals that Suarez will score because they will be tainted, smeared with the disgusting effluvia of soulless men.
Suarez is the perfect signing by this board, a liar and a cheat who thinks that you are stupid, who will say that he didn’t deny shaking a player’s hand when it’s on video … who will say he didn’t bite, that a player rammed his shoulder into his mouth when it’s on video. Like our board and our new coach, he will do anything to win. A symbol nonpareil.
But let’s go back in time a bit, to when Barça was a Catalan institution, rather than a business based in Catalonia.
Rosell and his board won in a landslide. The club was riddled with debt, and couldn’t even afford to make color copies. We dealt Txigrinski back to Shakhtar for 10m LESS than we paid because we needed the money. The club went after Laporta for guarantee monies because times were hard.
Then came salvation in the form of a pot of gold from Qatar. The shirt had a sponsor and the club went from “Brother, can you spare a dime” to “Record profits!”
It was also that this point that the Prince Charming theory began, aka “Our team is so special, that not just any player fits. We are trying to sign the perfect one. We shall see.”
To a cynical old bugger such as I this is shorthand for “We have no intention of buying anyone because we have other ambitions, and will hope we can scrape by with what we have.” This phase also kickstarted a period of neglect of the sporting project that has resulted in the crap we are dealing with now.
“Puyol is our CB signing”
One sentence sums up their neglect of the sporting project. Guardiola AND Vilanova saw the need for a squad freshening and reinforcements instead of going Swiss Army knife, and buying players who could play certain positions. But no.
The error was compounded by betting on the wrong horse, cutting Eric Abidal loose on a free for the salary dump and keeping Carles Puyol, who was recovering from his 9,423th successive injury. Abidal went on to play a full season for Monaco, albeit one of diminishing effectiveness, while Puyol became a card-playing partner for Jonathan Dos Santos, then retired at the end of this past season.
Xavi continued to age, Thiago left and suddenly the roster was peopled with a core of stalwarts and some “Not todays.” Tello, Dos Santos, Cuenca, Afellay, Sergi Roberto all languished on the bench taking up roster spots while the first team ran itself into the ground against a succession of opponents that had by now figured out how to play against it.
A caretaker coach was brought in with the task of “Hey, win something if you can.” That he waded through a shit-filled trench and still came within 5 goals of a Treble is a staggering feat, despite the fondness of culers for crapping on his efforts and accomplishments as if it were an Olympic sport. He had the same dwindling, damaged squad that was there when Guardiola left, only it was even more fried, physically and mentally. He toed the party line because that is what a caretaker is supposed to do, but you know that he knew that a phrase like “Puyol will be our most important winter signing” was so much crap.
But the board was on a mission.
“Look what we found in the sofa cushions!”
Neymar. It happened in the night, on little cat feet this deal that cost a whole heapin’ pile of money, a deal that made a president scuttle down the ratlines, made the name Jordi Cases famous (or infamous, dependent upon your worldview) and exposed a sordid bit of dealmaking.
Rosell resigned, Bartomeu took over and laid it all out for us, right down to the 40m for Neymar’s father. He, like Rosell, described the whole deal as “impeccable and perfectly legal.” And even if the Spanish tax authorities took issue with that depiction of events, another remarkable thing happened:
An austerity club spent 57m for a player.
Still no center back though, because well … Mister Perfecto was still proving elusive, but rest assured we are trying as hard as we can to make it happen. Meanwhile … shiny thing!
“Oooooh! Look! MORE Shiny!”
The stadium project. Everything was all about the stadium project. Faux austerity, no signings of any real import for too long, no squad freshening, “we count on Sergi Roberto” all led to a Nou Nou. For a passel of lads fond of monuments, this was it. That referendum had to pass, and frankly, a team being in trouble probably made for a more effective sales job.
“We need this new house, because we can’t compete with the big, fancy teams who have their big, fancy, revenue-generating houses. However we strive to buy expensive players, we can’t if we don’t have the same kind of big, fancy, shiny house. It will save this club. The project will be starting in 2016, so if you want to save this club, you know how to vote in the next presidential election.”
The referendum passed with an appallingly low turnout, one that had many questioning whether the vote was even valid. And that was that. Now, was it time to think about the team? Not so fast, said the footballing authorities.
“You can’t buy that stuff”
FIFA came down with a transfer ban for the club, based on irregularities in the registration of youth players, violations perpetrated by the very folks who were ostensibly in charge of steering the club to better times. Garments were rent, entreaties flung at the nearest available deity to stay this vile punishment. And wouldn’t ya know it, through a series of events including a miscalculation by FIFA itself in assessing the status of a couple of the players, the ban was stayed and the board could now set about the business of no longer being an austerity club.
Suddenly, business was being done. Ter Stegen came. Rafinha and Deulofeu returned from loan. Rakitic was purchased from Sevilla, and Claudio Bravo from La Real. Cesc Fabregas was sold to Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal as, in the space of a summer (rumor has it the transfer ban was only stayed, not lifted) the club has now set about trying to eradicate 4 seasons’ worth of neglect.
And the club has done some excellent business this summer, nabbing key reinforcements for very good prices thanks to timing, and taking advantage of situations in which a player wants to come to Barça. And yet, not only are there too many holes to fill in one summer, but the wanton neglect of the sporting project, a crime that allowed three years to fall from the legs of the best, most vibrant footballing crew of anyone’s recent memory.
Because they are buying all of that nice new stuff, we are supposed to forget about the past, and trust them with the future as desperate men try to save their own asses.
Yet still, no center back because well, you understand that there is a Barça profile, and not just ANY player can be purchased to fit that profile. This one is too big, this one too small. This one won’t be sold. This one is too expensive. This one is just … nope, never mind.
A REALLY shiny thing
Because of all that neglect, the club didn’t win anything worthy of note last season. And there is nothing that will get rid of a president and his board like poor results. So at the terminus of that arc of neglect is a vile act, Luis Suarez, yet another expensive attacker who comes as we pick and paw over CBs, negotiating like little old ladies at the village market trying to knock a few cents off the price of a peach because of a bruise.
Prima facie signing an attacker is correct, given that the club’s complexities last season were not conceding goals but scoring them. So let’s buy this dude, who is in the estimation of many the best forward on the planet, and get busy.
Except the player comes with baggage that is either too much to deal with, or immaterial. Depends on who you are.
Over the course of his career, Suarez has bitten three opponents, and been found guilty of making racist remarks to another in the heat of an argument. He has kicked, dove and displayed stunning feats of self-centered petulance. He is presently serving a four-month FIFA-imposed ban from all football-related activity, except for transfers. Ain’t THAT lucky? He can’t even enter a stadium, but he can have a team pay a king’s ransom for his services. Where his presentation will be held is still in discussion, as it can’t be at the Camp Nou.
In the arms race that is modern football at the highest level, teams want the best players. And it seems, in the case of our board, they don’t much care about the history of that player as long as he can score bags of goals. Many supporters feel the same. Whether anyone agrees is a personal decision. It is also immaterial as the club doesn’t care what any of us thinks. But for purposes of debate, it helps to know where you stand.
For me, a line has been crossed. This board has transformed Barça into Real Madrid in Catalonia. Further, by choosing to bite yet another opponent Suarez has engineered the transfer of his choosing to a team with a better chance of studding his trophy case with more tributes. Who wouldn’t take that kind of sanction? And he gets time off until November.
Justifications and excuses
Pepe is a spectacular defender. I would no more want him at Barça than I would want to set my ass on fire. Suarez has many, many supporters, culers who, besotted on the juice of victory and missing that taste, are fine with it. “Yes! Bring him on! When is the victory parade!”
“We can rehabilitate him, and make him a better person.”
“He deserves a second chance.”
“Kicking is a lot worse than biting.”
“There are bigger problems in the world than someone biting someone else.”
This all falls, for me, under the category of “anything to win.” It isn’t even a question of morality, even as it is a question of values. It’s also a choice of risk and reward, and acceptance. Is the club that we support willing to accept a player AND pay an immense fee for him, despite the fact that said player might in fact cause the reverse of the very thing he is purchased to facilitate? What if he wigs out in a Champions League final?
“Well, we got there, and that’s better than losing to Bayern. He will behave better next time.”
Ask Uruguay if they could have used his services in their most recent World Cup match. Might someone be asking Enrique, “So who are you going to start, now that Suarez has been suspended for (insert transgression here)?”
Valid ask. And by the by, how dare that mean ol’ FIFA suspend him just for one little old bite, a contention that ignores the player’s history, and the clear intent of FIFA that the player take some time to get some help. This is a human being, with a family and people who love him. Not sure how they feel when he does things like that, but it can’t be good, irrespective of the hero’s welcome that he gets upon returning to Uruguay, despite the reality that he let down his teammates and country by not being able to control his baser impulses at a time of struggle.
Many Liverpool fans say that it’s time for him to go, that he’s talented but has become too much of a liability. Seeing a batch of 10+match suspensions come and go tends to jaundice one’s view of a player, no matter how talented.
Luis Suarez should not be playing football this season. He should be getting help for what is clearly a problem. If he hurt his knee, he would have to take the required time to heal the injury. Is a psychological injury any less dangerous to play on?
Barça has had hard men, and tough tacklers. Hristo Stoichkov stomped on a ref’s foot, and hurled himself about the pitch like a man possessed. Samuel Eto’o had his demons, demons that, curiously enough, never manifested themselves on the pitch in ways that brought suspensions, etc. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a self-centered asshat. Here’s a Suarez table:
Groningen: 5 matches, 4 goals, 3 yellows and one red
Ajax: Suspended after an accumulation of yellows; suspended again after an altercation with a teammate over a free kick and who would take it; suspended 7 matches for his first biting incident
Liverpool: Suspended 8 matches for Evra incident; suspended one match for obscene gesture to opponent supporters; suspended 10 matches for biting Branislav Ivanovic (the FA disciplinary committee remarked on the player’s lack of remorse, things that also manifested themselves in the Evra and Chiellini incidents)
Uruguay: Suspended 4 months for biting an opponent during a match.
“He is a fierce competitor who would do anything to win. I want that player on my side.”
“He is a very nice man off the pitch, his teammates like him and his family loves him.”
So what about …
In attempts to justify letting in vileness, people are coming with all sorts of false equivalences, but there is nothing comparable.
In 2011 during yet another hotly-contested match against Real Madrid, Sergio Busquets, Mr. Peek-A-Boo, Van Persie throat-grabber was accused of calling Marcelo a monkey. RM presented video to UEFA and demanded action. Pep Guardiola defended Busquets, saying that “My players are an example of professionalism and honesty.”
The situation was debated in this space from all angles. No real determination was made by UEFA and the case simply went away. Do I think he did it? Yes. Immaterial. The difference is that Suarez was found guilty and punished for his. Like Suarez, Busquets has but the one incident, and despite those who say that each one is a racist, neither is that we know of.
That is to say, they might have made racist remarks (yes, I believe Busquets did), but they are not in an of themselves racist. Again, that’s a personal line. There is also the school of thought that says if your mind immediately turns to racist stuff to unsettle a black opponent, the mouth speaks what the soul contains. Yet in the court of public opinion, you can only go by a player’s actions, and neither has had any further incident in that regard.
Is even one occurrence of taking someone’s humanity like that too much? Again, that is a line that each of us has to define, while making debates about redemption, forgiveness or frankly, not really giving a damn because he scores goals. Where I stand on the matter is clear, and if the club was thinking of transferring Busquets in, I would be looking as askance at it as I did the signing of Rakitic, who has homophobic remarks in his past.
Before you compare it to Rakitic (yes, his remarks are disgusting), he apologized, and there have been no further incidents. Again, does the mouth speak what the soul contains? Valid question.
Rakitic, Busquets and Suarez are brilliant players. Any team would be lucky to have ONE of them, never mind all three. But each of them forces a personal decision upon culers who line up to support Barça. And this isn’t like the board, where you can separate the board from the team and spit at one while cheering the other.
— Do you hold your nose and cheer?
— Do you not cheer any goals that are scored by the offenders?
— Do you go on allegiance hiatus until such time as the crap is cleared from the dressing/board room?
— Do you say “Spirit of forgiveness, and yay for us!”
Depends on each of us.
Again, this isn’t a morality question. But it is many other questions, including pride and values. What culer didn’t beam as announcers crowed about the number of homegrown names that studded Barça’s world-beating roster. Yet as fast as a Messi run to goal, we have become the Nou Galacticos. They have Ronaldo and Bale? Okay, we have Neymar and Suarez. So there.
The club has sacrificed something essential for the sake of winning, and winning right now because the Gucci-loafered tootsies of wealthy Catalan businessmen are in danger of being stepped on. So we buy a player with so much baggage he needs his own Sherpa and culers cheer, because the club got a brilliant player and let’s ignore all of that other stuff. Suarez doesn’t need a transfer. He needs help.
A simple game
What if Alex Song, or Adriano bit an opponent, and was suspended for making a racist remark at another player, even once? What would be the reaction of culers? What if a lesser player was being considered for a transfer and had the same disciplinary record as Suarez? What would culers be saying? Because this isn’t about statistics, it is about humanity. Is it human to forgive? Try inserting Song or Adriano into that equation, and ask yourself what your reaction would be.
Full points for full honesty.
But what about my money?
David Villa was 26 when Barça bought him for a fee of 40m. A few years later, ineffective and damaged, we sent him to Atletico Madrid for 2m give or take. Culers screamed about how crap the board was at business, even though the principal value of that transfer to the club was the salary dump. Suarez is 27, and we will be paying TWICE as much as we did for Villa. And in two or three years, assuming he doesn’t make the club fed up sooner than that, what will be his value? What is the number that will make culers scream bloody murder about how poor the club is at doing business? Because no way in hell will be be sold for anything approaching his stratospheric fee.
“Barça isn’t a selling club,” is what many including myself say. You buy a top player, use him up and then jettison his fat salary while wiping your brow. Either way, when the club buys astronomically high and sells low, that’s two groups of people who will have nothing to say.
The sport of it all
Suarez is, by many accounts, the most talented and fearsome striker in the game right now. And Messi needs a striker in front of him, many assert. So why not the best that money can buy? Suarez runs the pitch, makes space, is excellent in tight spaces and moves constantly, making defenses adjust to his movement and creating spaces for teammates with that movement. He is Diego Costa without the bullying.
On paper, sporting-wise, he is the perfect signing, were it not for the price and the time bomb aspect, not to mention the baggage. In a recent Sport poll, 90 percent of respondents felt the Suarez fee was too high. And while personally, I wouldn’t take him on a free, I can see their point.
But now it’s done, and there will be plenty of time to debate this, as he can’t even train with or play for the club until around November, so think of him as a winter window signing. In this very personal situation and very personal decision-making process, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still struggling over what to do in the wake of this, for me, appalling acquisition.
Danger, Will Robinson!
My first thought when I heard of this transfer news was, “Dude can’t even handle Chiellini, how in the hell is he going to be able to deal with Pepe and Ramos, 3 or 4 times per season?” At times of tension and maximum stress, Suarez seems to have difficulties. Being a Barça attacker is like being in a cauldron of boiling ire. Can he manage?
Then came Hristo Stoichkov, the man who knows a little bit about temper/temperament, with some advice and warnings for Suarez in a most excellent ESPN FC story from Dermot Corrigan:
“I have read about the transfer,” Stoichkov said. “He seems a really good player to me, one of the best forwards, with the character required to play for the biggest clubs — but the bites are going to be a problem!
“He is marked for the rest of his life. To play at Barca with what he has done is a problem. Every opponent and the referees and the press will make his life difficult. He will have to play with provocation and media attention, which will leave him in permanent tension.”
“I made a mistake with the stamp on Urizar and what came afterwards was very hard,” he said. “What is going to come to Luis Suarez will be the same. Opposition players will provoke you, they will look for violent reactions, try to get you out of the game.
“And if you are hot-blooded — well, sometimes it takes a lot to control yourself. Plus, referees are more worried about your reaction than what they say to you. Every game is a psychological war. And then there is the journalism, which also puts on pressure so that you can make some good copy. It is not easy. You must be a bit special to live with that.”
How special is Luis Suarez, in the abovementioned context? We’re about to find out.