Liverpool striker banned for ten games after moment so shocking the Prime Minister intervened
Today marks nine years since Luis Suarez bit Branislav Ivanovic against Chelsea and was banned for ten games. On a chaotic day for the Uruguayan, Liverpool won a corner in the 69th minute and Suarez tangled with Ivanovic before sinking his teeth into the defender’s right arm.
Referee Kevin Friend didn’t see the clash but the FA investigated and subsequently banned the forward for ten games. This was a further stain on Suarez’s chastening reputation and followed a similar ban of seven games for biting PSV Eindhoven midfielder Otman Bakkal’s shoulder while playing for Ajax in 2010. The striker was condemned around the footballing world and apologised.
In an initial statement, he said: “I am deeply sorry for my inexcusable behaviour earlier today during our match against Chelsea. I apologise to my manager, playing colleagues and everyone at Liverpool for letting them down.”
After speaking to Ivanovic, he tweeted a further apology later in the evening. He said: “I am sad for what happened this afternoon, I apologize to Ivanovic and all the football world for my inexcusable behaviour. I am so sorry about it.”
The game saw Liverpool draw 2-2 with Chelsea at Anfield. After Suarez had given away a penalty that Eden Hazard scored to put the visitors 2-1 up, the bite came as his frustrations got the better of him. The drama continued as he headed in an equaliser in the 97th minute.
Oscar had put Chelsea in front in the first half before Daniel Sturridge equalised for the Reds ahead of the thrilling ending to the game. The FA announced a 10-game ban for Suarez three days later.
Then Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was heavily critical of Suarez after the match. He said: “Having reviewed the video footage and spoken to Luis, his behaviour is unacceptable and I have made him aware of this. This is a club with incredible values and ethics – there’s certainly no one bigger than this club. As football managers, staff and players, we’re representing this club both off the field, and in particular on the field.”
During the altercation Ivanovic and Suarez tussled together and the latter sunk his teeth into the Chelsea defender’s right arm. Friend missed the incident but then talked to both and Ivanovic showed the referee the bite marks on his arm. Suarez defended himself to Friend with an accusatory point at the Serbian who was remarkably calm after what had happened and walked off to his position. Following the contest Petr Cech recounted how Ivanovic didn’t immediately mention what had gone on.
BBC Football Analyst and Liverpool legend Mark Lawrenson was scathing in his assessment of Suarez. He said: “What Luis Suarez did has absolutely no place in football and he is going to get and deserves an extremely length ban. You cannot bite people anywhere let alone on a football field. It is the type of thing you do when you are a baby. He is a world-class player but he gives you world-class trouble.”
PFA Chief Executive at the time, Gordon Taylor, added: “It was unacceptable. Suarez’s reputation for controversy continues to increase when he can be such a good player, one of the world’s best, so it is a real dilemma now. It’s uncalled for, it’s depressing and it’s such a shame for a player who is a really good footballer but this is not the first time that such things have happened.”
When the ban was announced Liverpool said they were ‘shocked and disappointed’ at the length of the suspension. However, perhaps wary of the optics, Suarez decided not to appeal the ban. Both Rodgers and then Liverpool managing director, Ian Ayre, backed the Uruguayan. Even Prime Minister David Cameron got involved – he said that the bite ‘sets the most appalling example to young people in our country’.
Suarez claimed his ban should have just been three games but instead it meant he missed the final four games of the 2012/13 season and the first six of the 2013/14 campaign. The biting ban was the latest in multiple controversies for Suarez since he joined Liverpool in 2011. This included an eight-game suspension and £40,000 fine for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. At the time Lawrenson believed that Suarez’s future was at risk.
He said: “He is now becoming a constant offender – there is probably a sheet of A4 paper with all his offences over his career. He needs to learn quickly – it is distracting for everyone. Even if the ban gets reduced to eight games that is 20% of the season. Liverpool are going to have to make a decision on his future.
“Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard said maybe he needs some help – he obviously does. At the moment it’s to the detriment of the football club. You wonder what he will do next. It [Suarez leaving Liverpool] is a possibility. But any business where you have an asset worth £30million or £40 million, nobody is going to sack him.” This was echoed by former Liverpool striker John Aldridge. He added: “It is a massive hit for both the player and club. But he has to control it, for the sake of himself and Liverpool – he cannot let anything go wrong on the pitch again.”
Reflecting on the incident Ivanovic later said: “When it happened I was surprised and angry. But after the game I calmed down and all was forgotten. We spoke on the phone; I accepted the apology and the police did not press charges. It was a really strange situation. Overnight I was everywhere because of what happened even though I was only a minor character [in the story]. For the first time in the news everything was about Ivanovic.”
Suarez was on a six-man shortlist for PFA Player of the Year that season which Taylor responded to by saying ‘it would be embarrassing if he is named player of the year’. He was unsuccessful but his 23 goals secured a place in the PFA Team of the Year as Liverpool came seventh. Suarez’s combative nature was demonstrated by a league high ten yellow cards across the campaign.
Despite missing the first five league games of the following campaign Suarez scored a sensational 31 goals in 33 games as Liverpool narrowly missed out on the title. However he had not learnt his lesson and was found guilty of another bite at the 2014 World Cup. This time Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini was the victim and FIFA banned Suarez from football for four months, ending his World Cup campaign. That summer he signed for FC Barcelona for a fee of over £70m.