Luis Suárez and the bite heard 'round the world

On Tuesday, in the midst of a key match between Italy and Uruguay, the star striker Suárez bit someone. Again.

SB Nation's 2014 World Cup Bracket'

I am deeply sorry for my inexcusable behaviour earlier today during our match against Chelsea.

I have issued an apology and have tried to contact Branislav Ivanović to speak to him personally. I apologise also to my manager, playing colleagues and everyone at Liverpool Football Club for letting them down.

-Luis Suárez, April 2013.

June 24 was, until the 80-somethingth minute of the noon ET kickoffs, easily the World Cup's worst day. Costa Rica-England was completely irrelevant, while Italy's match against Uruguay was going to be played in unfortunate circumstances: Italy needed a 0-0 draw to advance, and the Azzurri have slow 0-0 draw written somewhere deep in their bones.

But as it turned out, the 160 minutes of dire football we had been served were not a marker of the World Cup taking a new and unwelcome turn into the unspeakable plateau of ennui that usually constitutes the sport's 'biggest stage.' Group D was a slow burning fuse, but when it exploded, it did so with a pretty good bang. The explosion, naturally, involved (and will perhaps consume) Luis Suárez.

★★★

The first time Luis Suárez bit someone during a football match, it was 2010. He was playing for Ajax in the Eredivisie. In the midst of a 0-0 draw against PSV Eindhoven, a scrum surrounded the referee, and, for reasons that remain unclear, the striker opted to sink his teeth into Otman Bakkal's left shoulder. As he has done throughout his career, he made a move so unexpected, so weird that he didn't get into any immediate trouble. Biting exists so far out of the realm of football that nobody is ever looking for it, and nobody seems to have much idea of what to do when it happens.

At ESPN, Wright Thompson offers up the following explanation of Suárez's bizarre behaviour: "A man doesn't bite simply because he is crazy. He bites because he is clinging to a new life, terrified of being sucked back into the one he left behind."

The young star was given the appellation "the Cannibal of Ajax" by an appalled local media for the attack on Bakkal. Biting in and of itself isn't a particularly egregious sin, of course, and Suárez is subjected to tackles significantly more likely to cause injury than a mere bite whenever he takes the field. But there's something about the act of biting that's so perversely unsportsmanlike that it raises the hackles of everyone who sees it happen.

Suárez was suspended for seven games by the Dutch football authorities, but he soon escaped the confines of the Netherlands. He was headed to bigger and better things at Liverpool, where his extraordinary skill -- and unique penchant for controversy -- would be exposed to the rest of the world.

★★★

Luis Suárez missed the first game of the 2014 World Cup, a 3-1 embarrassment against eventual group winners Costa Rica. In the final match of the 2013-14 Premier League season, one in which Liverpool, powered by Suárez's goals, came within a slip from winning, he was laid out by a heavy tackle from Paul Dummett. The Newcastle defender was sent off, but Suárez suffered greater consequences -- a torn meniscus that put his participation in the World Cup in doubt.

Surgery went smoothly, as did Suárez's recuperation. He wasn't ready to play against the Ticos, but when the time came to square off against England, he was in the lineup, plotting the Three Lions' downfall.

Ask a defender how to stop Suárez, most of them don't have a clue. He's a phenomenally talented player, capable of weaving his way through crowds of bodies, and turning impossible positions into goals with regularity. But he plays like a street fighter. Most of Suárez's ilk -- the Lionel Messis and the Cristiano Ronaldos of the world -- play with a sort of assumed dignity that accompanies their status. They're better than their opponents and they don't need to resort to underhanded tricks.

Even Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who regularly finds himself in trouble for random acts of violence, doesn't play like Suárez. With Ibrahimovic, one simply gets the feeling that he's sometimes in the mood to kick someone in the face. Suárez, though, acts as though he isn't a superstar, that he has to skirt the line -- and, not infrequently, conduct extended sallies well over the line -- in every second of every match just to compete.

England's pairing of Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill, inadequately shielded by the creaking body of Steven Gerrard (Suárez's captain at club level), had no answer for Suárez. He scored in the first half, a beautiful header directed expertly beyond Joe Hart's considerable reach, and he scored in the second to break a 1-1 tie. That second goal gave Uruguay a 2-1 win and eliminated the Three Lions.

After the match, Suárez spoke about how wonderful it was that he had finally been able to take revenge on his critics in England for persecuting him so unfairly.

★★★

The second time Suárez bit someone during a football match, it was 2013. Chelsea were playing against Liverpool at Anfield, a match never short of fireworks. The score was 2-1 in the visitors' favor, and Suárez had given away the penalty that gave Chelsea that lead.

Tussling with Branislav Ivanovic in the penalty area, the striker turned and sank his teeth into the Serbian's arm. Ivanovic yelled in surprise, pushed Suárez off him and pointed out the bitemarks to the referee, who, in keeping with bite the first, completely ignored it. Liverpool tied the match in injury time. Suárez was the scorer.

The FA, after reviewing camera footage of the incident, threw the book at him. Suárez was banned for 10 matches, a punishment that carried over to the 2013-14 season. It was his second lengthy punishment during his time in England -- a season prior he missed eight games after being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

It was these punishments for which Suárez was seeking revenge when he scored twice to beat England.

★★★

A lot of the game was played in sheer frustration from Suárez's point of view. He took it out on the arm of the Chelsea player.

...

It's in the man. I would think that in five years' time if there was a certain nerve hit or chord rung with Suárez in a different situation he would react in the same way.

-Sports psychologist Dr Thomas Fawcett, April 2013.

The third time Suárez bit someone during a football match was at the 2014 World Cup. Uruguay were ten minutes away from elimination at the hands of the Azzurri, who, despite a red card to Claudio Marchisio, were doing a reasonably good job of keeping the score at 0-0, a result which would have sent them through to the knockout rounds.

Suárez had been kept in check by this robust Italian defense. His lone chance, a poked second-half effort, was well saved by Gianluigi Buffon. Frustration was mounting.

It's easy to claim that Suárez will do anything to win. He was the center of controversy in 2010 as well, taking a red card for a handball on the line against Ghana, one that sent Uruguay through to the semifinals. His diving is by now legendary (and, like all legends, fairly overstated). But neither the biting nor the racial abuse are the actions of a cold, rational footballer.

They're the acts of someone who is, frankly, a little bit mad.

The ball was nowhere near Giorgio Chiellini when Suárez came up behind him in the Italian penalty box, but, being a center back and a notoriously physical one, the Juventus defender would have expected some jostling regardless.

He did not, however, expect Luis Suárez to push his head against his shoulder and bite. Chiellini's reaction was, unsurprisingly, to sweep Suárez's head off him with his left elbow. The move ended with both men on the floor. Suárez was left clutching his teeth, the model of a man in agony, while Chiellini, presumably stuck somewhere between utter amazement and outrage, bounced up to show Marco Rodriguez the tooth marks on his shoulder.

For the third time in Luis Suárez's career, he bit someone on a football pitch and didn't get so much as a card.

★★★

It's difficult to know where he can go from here. Diego Godin's header sent Uruguay into the knockout rounds (and the country itself into wild celebrations, one imagines), but Suárez almost certainly will not play again in this World Cup. FIFA will review the footage and hand out appropriate punishment, and it's not out of the question to imagine that they'll impose sanctions at the club level as well.

Prior to bite number three, Suárez had missed a total of seventeen games to biting-related suspension -- almost half a season of domestic play. What kind of punishment will dissuade him from doing this again whenever he finds himself a bit upset? Right now we have little way of knowing what will happen to Suárez, but the precedent and the outrage suggests that he's in a lot of trouble.

But he has more than a suspension to worry about. One bite is ... well, weird. Two is outrageous. Three could be career-defining. Suárez had managed to overcome his previous sins in the eyes of the media, "redeeming" himself through masterly play and a glut of goals as Liverpool chased the Premier League crown last season. His reputation was as high as a player known to bite and racially abuse people could plausibly be. As England's best player last season, he was feted and fawned over by the press.

And, having managed not to do anything absurd for 13 months, he bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. Whatever you might say about Suárez, you can't deny his commitment to his art, his tragic and reprehensible spiral into villainy. Luis Suárez is as utterly ridiculous a footballer as is humanly possible. That, not his talent, is how he'll be remembered.

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