Luis Suarez received a two-match ban for his role in a “scrum” in the tunnel after the highly contentious Catalan derby Copa tie. The club is appealing, as it should.
Meanwhile, Pique is being looked at by the Liga anti-violence committee for essentially being a social media troll, while Messi probably still has cleat marks in his leg from the efforts that the Espanyol keeper turned in to make the Argentine a human connect the dots game. There is outrage, and it is pointless.
Starting with Suarez, his alleged “waste of space” statements were, by all accounts, made by Mascherano. So is the suspension for the comments, or for a different role in the fracas? This much is unclear.
What isn’t unclear at all is that Suarez has a reputation, one that has been earned. For many, he’s a biting, kicking racist. For others, he’s a passionate competitor who let moments of the “red mist” get the better of him. What isn’t debatable is that he has seen repeated sanctions for incidents that contravene the laws of the game. Ask Ghana supporters if he is a passionate competitor, or a cheat. Suarez has a reputation. Like anyone with a reputation, he has to be aware of that rep and behave accordingly. It’s part of the pact that a player makes with the team that he is part of, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s fair. It just is.
If you have a rep for kicking people, and an opponent sees you raise your foot, screams and hits the pitch, people are going to look sideeye at you. Get used to it. Suarez should be striving to behave like Iniesta, precisely because of the reputation that he has. Yet he has been getting increasingly cranky and combative, and many have been wondering when he was going to “snap.” Would they wonder that about any other player? Nope. And no, it isn’t fair. But there it is, and Suarez knows it. He knows that CBs have been kicking at him, and goading him ever since he came to Liga. And he should understand that by letting that get under his skin, it affects his game and hence, that pact he made with his teammates.
Passion was high, and that derby was all kinds of nasty. We don’t think at times of passion, even as we should. Logically, Suarez should have said, “Given how everyone thinks of me, I’m just going to stand here in the corner.” But you’ve been being kicked for 90 minutes, and those are your teammates there, rowing it up. That’s the challenge, even as a part of that pact a player makes is to comport yourself in a way that doesn’t damage the team by rendering you unavailable to it.
Neymar gets kicked like he’s the pinata in an ongoing game of foot pinata. Iniesta gets kicked because that’s the only way to stop him. Messi gets kicked because he’s the best player in the game, and you have to stop him somehow. Neymar suffers from occasional bouts of retributive petulance, and a yellow comes. Iniesta and Messi take their beatings with a calmness that is almost stupefying. Perhaps they understand that rage is, like an addict battling demons, something that if you let out, will consume you. Or maybe they understand that they are essential to their team, and can’t let that stuff get to them. No idea, but it’s remarkable.
Suarez is a target, and an easy one. When in doubt, “the biting, kicking, racist did it. He’s done it before.” Is the sanction fair? Prima facie, nope. What about everyone else in the scrum? Why just Suarez, particularly if he didn’t say what was alleged to have precipitated the whole business. Or were they squaring off beforehand? So many questions, but the only answer is that “Suarez is a target.” He’s a passionate player with a strong sense of right and wrong, a sense that, as with most of us, is malleable based on what life throws at us. You’re speeding on the highway, but someone who is speeding more than you are is a maniac, and your feathers ruffle. Suarez has a goat that is easily gotten, and a reputation. Understand that, and behave accordingly.
Neymar has a reputation that causes him to get kicked a lot more than opponents are penalized for. He’s the perpetual Boy Who Cried Wolf, so you have to hit him with a car in the penalty box for Barça to get a call. He understands that by now, which is why he will get up and keep playing, rather than laying there and having a snit. Messi is his example and role model. He understands. Suarez has had enough time to get to understand how things are, and life as a target. So as unfair as his suspension is, and even if the club manages to successfully appeal it (unlikely, as it becomes a ref vs club swearing match), the fact that Suarez has to understand where he fits in the game that he plays doesn’t change. If you’re a target, don’t make it easy to hit you.
Blaming the victim? Nope. A reality of life is that our transgressions follow us along the path. We know that, as grownups. Suarez is a grownup, wrongly persecuted or not.
The larger problem is that on its best day, the Liga is run by idiots. There is a persistent persecution complex on the part of many culers that ignores this. As the old saying goes, “played by geniuses, run by jackasses.” But it’s true. Liga refereeing is poor, but it’s poor for everyone. Each team and group of supporters feels that the refereeing is crap because it affects them most acutely, in the microcosm that is an individual team and fanbase. So Diop got a one-match ban for offering to poop on a player’s mother, while Pique got four for offering to poop on an official’s mother. This actually makes sense, even in the absurd world of people parsing maternal pooping opportunities.
This penalty difference makes sense, no matter how you feel about Liga officiating. People have to respect officials, even blind, dimwitted ones. So transgressions against them will and should be punished more severely than those that occur player to player. Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings here.
There are more bad tidings in the actions of the Espanyol keeper, as he looked, lined up Messi’s leg as the Barça icon would a shot, and then stomped. Hard. Not cool. The ref didn’t see it and, if you watch the incident, it would have been impossible for him to. Aside from the Liga tyranny of the match report, where if the ref didn’t list something then it didn’t happen, if the ref didn’t see it, he couldn’t react to it. Yes, there is video, and we have by now seen the images. But the ref didn’t see it, so that’s that.
The American football league, MLS, has a retroactive ajudication system that can, and does penalize players, post facto, for incidents such as that. But why doesn’t the club DO something? What’s wrong with those idiots?
Well, there’s a history of inaction in similar incidents, and not just at Barça. Suarez stomped on Abdennour, and Valencia didn’t do anything. Pepe stepped on Messi, and Barça didn’t do anything. A long, hard search for club action when Weligton had his own Waterloo on Messi’s leg, turned up nothing. What makes this incident any different, except that a board that can do no right occupies the boardroom? “Why won’t they fight for the club,” many shout from the ramparts, even as the fight was endless against the FIFA ban. It might be self-serving, but the Neymar contract battle is ongoing. The club is also standing up for Neymar in the racist chanting incident at Cornella, and is still waging that Quixotic crusade against UEFA’s fine for supporters waving Esteladas.
But yeah, the board doesn’t fight for the club. As most know, I am a culer who lives for the day where we see the backs of Bartomeu and all his dyspeptic henchmen. But I also am, to the frustration of many, even-handed. They are doing what they can, when they can. They appeal, people say the club won’t win the appeal not because appeals are rarely won, but because somehow, they are stupid or inept. This isn’t entirely accurate, even as I believe this board is many things, few of them good. But there is a catch-22 of making the appeal and being damned for losing it, or not making one and being damned for not making one.
And that ain’t fair, even as our quest for fairness is usually doomed to fail, because life isn’t fair. Officials don’t see everything, people get punished for things they didn’t do because of their reputation, and appeals, even of incidents that are clearly wrongly judged, don’t always work. That’s part of the deal. What we can strive for, in this sea of unfairness, is balance.