I have two observations to make about the controversial goal scored by Luis Suarez yesterday, which has led to the player receiving both fierce criticism and also some strong support from many analysts and fellow players.
The first is that it is not the duty of players to make refereeing decisions.
Whether or not it should have been disallowed has in itself been debated. Some say that the ball ricocheted onto the arm of Suarez and therefore he couldn’t get out of the way. Others claim it was a deliberate attempt by the Liverpool striker to control the ball with his hand.
If it hadn’t been Luis Suarez, there would be much less attention given to the incident. Regardless of his undoubted talent, there have been too many controversial moments in a career where Suarez has rarely been out of the spotlight and as with some of football’s other controversial characters, such as Man City’s Mario Balotelli, the slightest hint of controversy involving Suarez attracts a media circus and endless analysis.
However, nothing in Suarez’s history should be referred to when looking at yesterday’s incident, if only for the simple fact that no one can claim with certainty that it was a deliberate handball.
Given that it was a handball though, should Suarez have been obliged to point it out to the referee? The answer to that is, of course, no.
If football was such an honest sport in which there was total fair play with no deceiving officials with skilfully crafted dives, or wasting time by feigning injury to disrupt matches and gain an advantage, then there would be a stronger argument for suggesting that Suarez had a duty to make known to the referee that the ball had hit his hand.
The reality of modern football is that it’s a world away from the above picture of a sport in which there is complete honesty, and in an ever more competitive sport – off the pitch as well as on it – there’s unlikely to be anyone playing the game today who would get a lucky break from a refereeing decision and then ask for it to be overturned.
If honesty existed then players wouldn’t argue against decisions such as free kicks or penalty decisions when they know full well that they’ve committed a foul. Nor would players accept decisions in their favour that have been awarded for fouls when there has been no contact.
The other point I wish to make is that it’s not the first time that such an incident has happened and it’s hard to understand why such great attention is being placed on Suarez. Even the Mansfield manager, Paul Cox, refused to criticize the player.
I don’t recall such a fuss being made when AC Milan’s Filippo Inzaghi directed the ball into the Liverpool net with his hand during the 2007 Champions League final in Athens. On that occasion Liverpool were the dominant side for much of the match – unlike the meeting between the two teams in the 2005 final – and Inzaghi’s goal was a pivotal moment in swinging the match in Milan’s favour.
There could have been Mourinho-style whingeing from everyone in Liverpool’s corner, but it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. It was a refereeing mistake and it went Milan’s way on that occasion. Against Mansfield, the decision was in Liverpool’s favour.
In the weeks, months and years to come, there’ll be scores more teams on the end of wrong decisions that prove costly. Most teams will benefit at some point, and suffer at other times.
But, after all, that’s football.