Marseille footballer Joey Barton gives his opinion on Luis Suarez and cheating in football, exclusive for the Paddy Power Blog
Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow.
The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing
– Abraham Lincoln
Luis Suarez’s shadow has been painted in the shape of a ‘diver’ and a ‘cheat’. Suarez’s reputation in England will stick to him like his shadow and there’s not much he can do to change it, this I know.
But he doesn’t need to worry about it because he’s such a good player. There are always going to be people in the game that don’t like him and no matter what he does to change their opinions, he’s doomed to fail. It’s not something he should worry about. If you’re crap at your job nobody bothers with you because you’re not a threat. It’s when you’re good that people try to give you stick, unsettle you and get you off your game. It’s a massive backhanded compliment.
I see it as a sign of respect. People wouldn’t do it unless there was an element of respecting my ability. Luis Suarez must feel the same. He’s happy to let his football do the talking because he’s an outstanding player.
I read plenty of the fallout from the Luis Suarez handball against Mansfield on Twitter, and elsewhere, and saw everyone going berserk about it. It’s one of those reactions where you’re expecting the referee to blow the whistle. You can see the look on Suarez’s face, he’s surprised he got away with it.
Suarez is a bad boy in the media’s eyes. That’s an angle they will push. If it had been Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Steven Gerrard or Jonjo Shelvey, or someone the media looks upon favourably, we would have seen a different reaction.
Much of the anti-Suarez sentiment comes from his track record, more than the ‘foreigners ruining our game’ brigade. He’s one of the few truly world-class players we have in the Premier League. He’s been brilliant this season, but it’s live in person that you really appreciate him. His movement is outstanding and having not watched a great deal of English football in the last few months, I’d forgotten just how good it was and how hard he works.
I’ve had a couple of arguments with him on the pitch and he’s not a nice guy once the game begins.
Suarez is an angry man and wants to win for his team. There’s a fine line between being competitive and breaking the rules – which I know a lot about – and it’s playing on that edge that gives Suarez his spikiness and substance as a player. Without that desire to succeed, he wouldn’t be anywhere near as good. He’s a handful to play against and if you ask any defender he’s been up against, they won’t have enjoyed it. He works hard, gets stuck in and does the running of two men for his team.
Liverpool support Suarez through thick and thin
It’s interesting that every time he has been in trouble, everyone at Liverpool Football Club has rallied around to support him. To me, that’s a testament to what kind of a guy he is. He must be a good person otherwise he wouldn’t be getting that unequivocal support. Even in the aftermath of the Patrice Evra incident – rightly or wrongly – all the players were wearing the infamous Suarez t-shirt for the Wigan game, regardless of their skin colour. It wasn’t just the white players or the English players, it was the whole team. If he was a bad guy, you wouldn’t get that level of solidarity. Certainly I wouldn’t be bothered for someone I didn’t want around.
The commentator, Jon Champion also played a part after the Mansfield incident. He called Suarez a cheat and although ESPN apologised, it was poor. His gut reaction was ‘Suarez is a bad boy’ and maybe he doesn’t like him, but in a position of influence like that, Champion can’t come out instantly and accuse a player like that.
I’ve found plenty of commentators who have opinions about me and prejudged me. Some commentators have an axe to grind with certain players whilst they’ll look favourably on other players and take the more positive angle. That has always been part and parcel of the game, but football commentary has lowered standards recently, so much so that I’ve taken to watching games on mute. I don’t listen to many of them because most commentators talk absolute nonsense. They talk on auto-pilot for the sake of filling time. Martin Tyler springs to mind as the best commentator out there, but without naming names, many of the others are really awful. I could name names, but I won’t.
He’s a national here, like Maradona
Suarez has previous when it comes to handball and this fans the flames in everything that involves him. The incident involving Suarez’s handball in the quarter-final of the 2010 World Cup against Ghana was dragged into the debate about last Sunday’s goal. Some people used it as a stick to beat him with, but I would have done the same thing a million times over, one hundred per cent. When it comes to the World Cup, I’d have no problem with it. It made him a national hero. He sacrificed himself for the team and to this day, Maradona’s handball goal against England only added to his god-like popularity in Argentina.
When it comes a preference for ‘winning by cheating’ or ‘losing with integrity’, it’s a tough call. Winning is so central to the life of a professional athlete, you can never be certain how you’ll react until that moment arrives. You spend all week training and winning is what it’s all about. Ideally, you want to ‘win with integrity’, but with the huge stakes involved, sometimes you’ll take drastic measures. No-one dreams of winning by bending the rules or by cheating, but situations arise in the course of a game and people will gain whatever advantage they can.
You can gain a big advantage from testing how far the rules will bend.
As we are seeing with Lance Armstrong and the culture of cheating in cycling that has emerged, where there is huge prize money and huge contracts at stake, people are prepared to bend the rules. Using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is one end of the scale and diving or looking to gain an advantage through unfair means is at the other end, but all of it is outside the laws of the game.
But there are good examples out there.
At Highbury in 1997, Robbie Fowler won a penalty after tumbling under a challenge from David Seaman. He pleaded with the ref not to award it. Seaman saved Fowler’s penalty, which Jason McAteer scored on the follow-up, but Robbie ended up winning a UEFA Fair Play award for his honesty.
Then there was also the goal Marc Overmars scored at Highbury in the FA Cup fifth round against Sheffield United in 1999, when a United player needed treatment. In that case Arsenal offered a replay which was accepted and that was fair.
On the basis of that game, without Suarez’s goal against Mansfield, it could have finished 1-1 and Mansfield have an argument. They’re entitled to point out that Arsenal goal as a precedent. If the game went on to finish 4-1 or 5-1, they’ve no leg to stand on, but they’ve got a point. Liverpool could have offered a replay.
I’m not proud of what I did against Manchester City
I cheat when I’m playing FIFA with my mates. Even if it’s just for a fiver or tenner, I’ll take them out on the edge of the box because I want to win.
The closest I’ve came to out-and-out cheating in a real game was at the end of last season for QPR against Manchester City. I knew I was getting sent off and I tried to get one of the City players sent off. I’m not proud of it, but I was thinking ‘this gives us the best opportunity of winning and the best opportunity of staying up.’ It was misguided, but at the time, it was simply doing what I thought was best for the team.
Suarez a big boy and a great player so he’ll be able to handle whatever gets thrown at him. If anything, he’s so mentally strong, it only seems to drive him on and I can’t imagine him getting too bothered by what people are saying about him.
I know the line Luis Suarez walks and it never changes. People never forget it and whenever something happens to him – or even myself – the past always gets dragged into it. It’s just the way it is. It’s the path we walk.
Would Liverpool fans settle for the same result on Sunday against Manchester United at Old Trafford? Damn right.
You’ve got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can’t hide
For you I know I’d even try to turn the tide
Because you’re mine, I walk the line
– Johnny Cash, I Walk The Line