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Marcotti: A tournament to remember

World Cup Jul 14, 2014
Read
 Posted by Gabriele Marcotti
Jun 24, 2014

Suarez in another bite storm

ESPN FC's Leonardo Bertozzi discusses the resignations of Cesare Prandelli and Giancarlo Abete and what it means to Italian football.

Leave aside the predictable jokes about being hungry and biting off more than you can chew. (We've heard them before -- twice. They were kinda funny the first time, somewhat tolerable the second; now they're just annoying.)

And forget the Luis Suarez Truthers and conspiracy theorists who are speculating that he did this to "force a move away from Anfield." (I realize the Premier League is the navel of the known universe for some, but ... seriously? Even if you think he's that calculated and evil and believe it's plausible, he would have chomped on a Crystal Palace or Newcastle player in May, as the title slipped away, not while playing for his country at the World Cup.)

Ask yourself instead: Now what?

No point here in trying to psychoanalyze Suarez. Wright Thompson did it and came as close as anyone can, without reaching a definitive conclusion.

And in many ways, it doesn't really matter what acrobatics Suarez's brain went through. He appeared to bite an opponent, and not for the first time, as Branislav Ivanovic and Otman Bakkal will confirm.

FIFA have the power to issue bans for violent conduct unseen by the match officials. Unless referee Marco Antonio Rodriguez specifically mentions the incident in his report, saying he saw it clearly and believed there was no need to take action, the matter can be referred to FIFA's disciplinary committee. It has happened before -- Mauro Tassotti on Luis Enrique, Leonardo on Tab Ramos -- and there's no reason it can't happen again.

If it does go to the committee -- and there's no reason it would not, after seeing the television replays -- it will have to decide if Giorgio Chiellini was, in fact, bitten. If he was, it will have to determine what punishment ought to be handed out. We don't have an exact precedent here, but there's no reason the committee wouldn't treat is as seriously as Leonardo's (four games) or Tassotti's (eight games) incidents, particularly because Suarez is a repeat offender.

There are no rules stating the committee must consider a player's prior record, but there also are none suggesting it can't be taken into account. The reality is that with a player as high-profile as Suarez, it will be. FIFA could even ban him for a period of months, rather than a number of games, which would rule him out of club football, too, though that seems unlikely.

The key remains whether they decide there is enough evidence to determine it was a bite. You can't really blame Rodriguez here; there was plenty going on in the area, and it was a tough spot from where he was standing. (That said, the referee didn't have a particularly good game. He missed a stonewall penalty for Uruguay in the first half and, more tellingly, was rather inconsistent. He was lenient in the first half, strict in the second.) The referee can't send a player off based on circumstantial evidence. FIFA, however, can use it to support what video replays appear to show.

In this case, there's plenty. The replay shows Suarez leaning into Chiellini's shoulder and you can see the fabric of the Italian defender's shirt rise during what one presumes is the biting process. Evidence of the bite itself caught on camera can also be considered, as can the reaction of the two players. Chiellini, who can be theatrical but usually clutches his face no matter which part of his anatomy has been hit, immediately reaches for his shoulder. Suarez, meanwhile, sits on the pitch massaging his jaw and fiddling with his teeth, which probably doesn't help his case.

These are unnatural reactions that can be explained only by something unnatural. Like one human biting another.

Chiellini's words after the game clearly called out FIFA: "You all saw what he did. He deserved to be sent off. I wonder if they'll do anything, because star players are protected."

Suarez's coach, Oscar Washington Tabarez, did what a manager does in a news conference. He said he had not seen the incident (which is entirely plausible) but that he was going to stick up for Suarez if others were going to attack him. "This is a World Cup," he said. "It's not about cheap morality."

Tabarez is a veteran with decades of experience. Once he realizes what happened -- asking Suarez flat out and then deciding whether he's telling the truth to his face would be a good start -- he's going to have a difficult decision to make. He can make Suarez come clean and apologize, effectively throwing himself at the mercy of FIFA and perhaps getting a reduced sentence. Or he can simply have him continue to deny everything, in which case he risks not having him back for this World Cup.

As we said, we'll leave the psychoanalysis to others. But a player who gets involved in things like that -- even if you continue to maintain his innocence and still want to insist there was no bite, he still leaned into an opponent for no apparent reason -- is dangerous. To his own team.

Because if Chiellini had squared up to him and blows had been exchanged, there's no telling what the referee would have done. Odds are, both would have been sent off. And if you're Italy, you'd happily see Chiellini marching off if it meant Suarez went as well. When your superstar plays the goon, you've got a problem. And it's one his managers need to address.

There's another irony here. Cast your mind back to the 2006 World Cup final. Officially, the refereeing crew saw the head-butt incident and that's why they sent off Zinedine Zidane. You can choose to believe that. Or, as many do, you can conclude that it was actually the fourth official, watching a replay on the pitchside monitor, that alerted the referee and had Zidane sent off. He wasn't supposed to look at the replay, but he did, and he helped the match official make the right decision.

There no longer are pitchside monitors that fourth officials can take a peek at. FIFA got rid of them in 2010. Had there been one, might Suarez have been sent off?

You could argue that technologically, we've actually traveled back in time without the monitors. FIFA president Sepp Blatter hinted at the use of instant replay in his speech to the FIFA congress two weeks ago. What was once anathema to Blatter, such as goal-line technology, is now a realistic possibility. Cynics will say he changes his mind because he's a demagogue who wants to get re-elected. He would say, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, that "when the facts change, my opinions change."

Four years ago, it was Frank Lampard's disallowed goal against Germany that prompted a Blatter rethink on goal-line technology. Might the apparent Suarez bite be the drop that pushes the FIFA supremo to revisit instant replay?

Gabriele Marcotti

A London-based journalist and broadcaster who covers world soccer, he is the author of three books, the world soccer columnist for The Times of London and a correspondent for the Italian daily Corriere dello Sport. You can catch him on ESPN FC TV and read him here twice a week.

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