Stop freaking out about Luis Saurez’s World Cup bite


The humbling of Tony O'Reilly, once Ireland's richest man, made headlines here last week and we will be returning to that topic here next week. 

But the big topic of conversation here last week -- like most places around the world -- was the Luis Suarez bite at the World Cup.  Judged by the reaction in my local bar opinion here has been divided, although I should point out that the pub in question has a high number of Liverpool supporters.

Before we start on Suarez, I should point out that many moons ago your humble correspondent was the manager of the under-9 team in my local soccer club.   

I became manager simply because the previous incumbent of the top job became too busy at work to carry on.  I was chosen for one very simple reason -- I had 8-year-old twin boys on the team (which allowed the other soccer dads to look at me and say, well, there's two reasons why you should be the next manager...)   

I am proud to say that the appointment was a triumph. My team went on to win their section of the North Dublin under-9 League that season.  

So the following assessment of the Luis Suarez issue obviously carries considerable weight.  (Our under-9s have not won their league since my departure.  Just saying, that's all!)   

My twins are now adults and have moved on to other sports -- one of them plays hockey for Ireland -- but we still follow the Premier League and we have been glued to the World Cup.  We're talking three matches a day here.  

The Suarez biting incident was greeted in our house with astonishment, bewilderment and, later on, even a little sympathy as the catastrophic consequences of what he had done loomed large.  We now know those consequences -- a lengthy ban, which will have a still unknown effect on the player, his country Uruguay and his club Liverpool.     

A global outpouring of disgusted condemnation has rained down on him, to such an extent that in our opinion it has become comical.  At least as comical as Suarez biting the Italian player, Chiellini.  Even Chiellini, who is no angel himself, has said the reaction has been over the top.  

The most hysterical outrage has come from people who know very little about football and only follow it when something like the World Cup is on.  A little knowledge in this case is indeed a dangerous thing.  

Even worse are the psychologists who are popping up in the media with their two cents worth of analysis that says more about their nice middle class backgrounds than it does about the formative experiences of a poor kid like Suarez kicking a ball around on the streets of Montevideo in his bare feet and doing what was necessary to make it.   

The former great Irish player and now TV soccer pundit Johnny Giles mildly shocked the country here a couple of weeks back when he said on RTE that the reason England had not survived in the World Cup was that the players "were not prepared to kill their granny."   

To succeed at this level, Giles explained, you have to be so determined, so focused and so ferocious that you would kill your granny to win a tackle or score a goal.  He was speaking metaphorically, of course, but we all knew what he meant.    

That drive and that ruthlessness is not something that many European kids have these days, and certainly not Irish or English kids thanks to the welfare state that gives them the basics even in poorer, so-called tough areas.  

It's different in places in South America, in the favelas and elsewhere, where life really is tough and there's no safety net and you have to be both street wise and hardened to survive.  It's different in that world, and that is where Suarez is from.    

That is not to say that biting is common in football in such places.  But it's not unheard of among the street kids, along with quick hair pulling, eye gouging or anything else that gives a momentary advantage.  That's what Suarez was, a street footballer who learned how to fight for the ball, how to trick an opponent and how to win at any cost.   

In an interview just a few months ago he said: "I'm definitely still doing things I used to try on the streets.  I guess I'm still a 'botija', a street kid who relies on the cunning I learned on the streets. These days, I'm not thinking intuitively about these skills; they just come out of me as instinct."

It's in that context that the Suarez biting incident needs to be seen.  It's not part of the pampered world of FIFA executives and their luxury hotels and expenses -- and condemnation coming from them, given what we know about corruption in FIFA, sounds very hollow indeed.   

That context also explains the resentful, almost perplexed reaction of Suarez to the FIFA decision.  Yes, his expression tells us that he knows he should not have done it.  

But it also tells us that he does not see the biting incident as being as horrendous as everyone else is saying it is.  His immediate reaction was to say that things like that happen near the goal area and to point out that Cheillini had left him with a bruised face.