Reality bites - why Luis Suarez has become an unrepentant winner
And so, Luis Suarez becomes the world's third most-expensive footballer. The hugely-talented Uruguayan striker will shortly complete his long-predicted move from Liverpool to Barcelona, costing the Catalan club a cool £75 million in the process. The Merseysiders lose undoubtably one of their greatest ever players; his new team assemble arguably the most extraordinary front three in the history of football: Messi, Neymar, Suarez.
In Spain, there is much rejoicing. The two giants of the Primera Liga, Barcelona and Real Madrid, compete in an annual contest to assemble the most expensive and talented forward players in the world. Last year, Gareth Bale joined Madrid for a world record £85 million; before that, Cristiano Ronaldo cost them just £5m less. With their signing of Suarez, Barca, who enjoyed a frustrating season, have counter-punched impressively. The aggressive metaphor is a fitting one.
Because of course, something's not right here.
Suarez is currently at the very beginning of a four-month ban from all football-related activity. He can't even enter Barcelona's stadium to sign his contract or be presented to fans. His crime, infamously, was a bite on the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini during a tense World Cup match which Suarez's team went on to win. It was far from a first offence - incredibly it's the third such offence that Suarez has committed in his career, and it's worth noting that if you or I bit three men in the street, we'd be sent to prison, not banned from going shopping.
The bite was shocking - but what really stuck in the throat of most supporters (and humans) was the lack of apology forthcoming from Suarez. Immediately following the incident, the player spoke of an accident, a collision, and 'falling forward' into Chiellini after losing his balance. Then, after six days as public enemy no.1, Suarez finally posted the following statement on Twitter:
Note the very deliberate language used. "the truth is that my colleague Giorgio Chiellini suffered the physical result of a bite in a collision he suffered with me."
Not, "I bit him", but "the physical result of a bite." As apologies go, it's as slippery as it is unrepentant.
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Despite widespread anger and disgust, even among some Liverpool supporters, the game then moved on, and quickly. After the apology was issued, Barcelona's President Josep Bartomeu chose his moment to publicly praise Suarez for admitting his mistake. "What I can say as a football person," Bartomeu told a news conference, "is that apologising has been to his credit, because when you make a mistake, you should apologise."
And with that, the deal was practically done. Liverpool get a problem player off their hands for a considerable fee, Barcelona add another jewel to their glittering line up. The real winner of course, is Suarez. In England, after two biting offences while on Liverpool's books, he was to become a target of abuse in every ground he visited. In Spain, he'll be greeted by a fresh public and a fresh media, not yet tired and frustrated at the Uruguayan's antics.
It's like the great redemptive stories. Failure, repentance, glory.
Suarez's talent, and his huge financial value to both the team that sells him and the one that buys him, allow the PR men to spin a different story. One which misses out that vital, character-shaping element of genuinely realising your mistake, paying for it, and apologising out of a changed heart.
Luis Suarez's move to Barcelona allows him to move from villain to hero in the blink of an eye. In terms of football's already poor showing as a platform for role modelling, this is as unfortunate as it gets. The message that football loving kids from around the world learn: you can do anything you like, as long as you're good enough on the pitch.
As Christians, we're in the forgiveness game - "the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives", goes the old hymn. But when our culture bends the rules for the famous and the talented, we should think twice before jumping on the bandwagon. Suarez isn't sorry, and let's not pretend he is. His lightning-fast redemption is cheap grace.