Luis Suarez during the England-Uruguay match at the 2014 World Cup. Photo: Getty
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Luis Suarez is a beast

On the taxonomy of strikers, the Uruguay star is an apex predator.

Once Uruguay had beaten England to stay in the World Cup, I turned off the TV and exhaled. What a display from Luis Suarez!

It would have been naive to expect anything less. After all, Suarez has shown how decisive he can be at Liverpool. A few days ago, I had a long, rather touching conversation with a Liverpool fan I found walking around Copacabana beach. He spoke of Anfield’s magic, of his love of Dalglish and Gerrard and his almost physical disgust at the sheer mention of Wayne Rooney, born in Liverpool only to torment Liverpool fans, first at Everton and then at Manchester United. But most of all he spoke of Suarez. “The greatest footballer who ever played for us,” he told me, to my astonishment. Surely he was exaggerating, I told him. After all, Suarez has barely been at Anfield for a couple of years. “Not in the least!” he said, not taking my skepticism well. “We have never had anyone attack like that, fight like that. Sometimes I think he was born in my own neighborhood. Suarez is a beast. A beast!”

I don’t know if there’s ever any question about that. In any case, Suarez’s two goals against England should dispel any doubts. What we saw at Arena Corinthians was the display of a very peculiar kind of striker. We might as well follow the taxonomy, because Suarez is a beast indeed.

There are many types of them in the world of football. There are great poachers, of course. Think of Javier Hernandez, who seems to have an intuitive sense of what happens inside the box but gets lost outside of it. Chicharito is always there at close range, but seems to fade when faced with opportunities from afar. Paolo Rossi was, in my opinion, one of the best poachers the World Cup has ever seen: absolutely lethal at close range. Then there are the specialists, men who seem destined to score using mostly one particular skill. Peter Crouch was one. Oliver Bierhoff was another, perhaps even Miroslav Klose, who, among other things, is a master of the header. Then there are the aesthetes, highly accomplished strikers who seem to interpret scoring as an art form. They craft goals and see the back of the net as a canvas. Their power comes from beauty, not violence. Butragueño comes to mind. Perhaps Bebeto and even Van Persie, although he can be brutal when need be.

And then we have the beasts. For them, scoring is a matter of rage. A goal is an explosion, an opportunity to test the goalie’s fear. They dream of shredding the hexagonal threads of the net; putting the ball not in the goal but past it. They are the equivalent of those sluggers who fantasise about hitting a home run way over the green monster and onto the streets of Boston. They are the masters of the slam-dunk; those who seek to tear the hoop and smash the glass. They hit 340-yard drives; 160-mph serves. They are… beastly.

The biggest beast I’ve ever seen was Gabriel Batistuta. The wonderful Argentinean didn’t strike the ball: he punished it. What I remember most about him, apart from his famously massive thighs, was his penalty-taking style. Batistuta took eight or nine steps, ran towards the ball and simply killed it. Pity the keeper who dared touch that thing! I honestly think that, given the right (or wrong) angle of impact, one of Batistuta’s insane kicks could have easily broken a goalie’s wrists. Very few got the chance to prove me wrong: there was simply no way to get there in time. Hristo Stoichkov was also a beast. I painfully remember his goal against Mexico in 1994. Poor Jorge Campos, like a character from the Matrix simply trying to avoid a swerving bullet. The great Ronaldo was a peculiar kind of beast: being Brazilian also forced him to add some panache to his violence; a little ballet before unleashing hell. I could say the same of Van Basten and Cantona, beasts themselves.

Luis Suarez belongs to that band of magnificent executioners. Take a look at his second goal against England. Of course, he needed to strike the ball hard. But there’s a certain extra oomph there. It’s the same fury that has lead him astray before, the same temper that had him bite (!) Ivanovic or (disgustingly) spew out racists slurs against Patrice Evra. It’s the rage of the unpredictable, of the magnetic rabble-rouser – oh, how people react to Suarez at Anfield! It’s Cantona kicking a fan. It’s Roy Keane, or Gennaro Gattuso (not strikers, I know, but beasts nonetheless.) Luis Suarez understands football as a confrontation, against the other team, against opposing fans, against everyone who is not on his side. That’s why, after his goals, he immediately (and instinctively) puts his index finger to his lips and orders the opposing crowd to be quiet. He has scored, but he has also won a bloody fight. You can almost hear him growl: a true beast.

This article first appeared on newrepublic.com

Photo: Getty
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The Tories play Game of Thrones while the White Walkers from Brussels advance

The whole premise of the show is a pretty good metaphor for the current state of British politics.

If you’re a fan of asking “who’s that, then?” and “is that the one who killed the other one’s brother?”, I bring great news. Game of Thrones is back for a seventh series. Its vast assortment of characters was hard enough to keep track of before half of them got makeovers. But now the new Queen Cersei has reacted to the arrival of the long winter by investing heavily in the kind of leather ball gowns sold by goth shops in Camden, and Euron Greyjoy, once a fairly bland sailor, has come back as a Halloween costume version of Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, all eyeliner and epaulettes.

The show’s reliance on British character actors is the only thing keeping me vaguely on top of the cast list: what’s Diana Rigg up to these days in Highgarden? And what about that guy who was in Downton Abbey that time, who now has the scaly arms? (Luckily, the next thing I watched after the Game of Thrones series premiere was the first two episodes of the revived Twin Peaks, which put my confusion into perspective. There, Agent Cooper spent most of his time talking to a pulsating bladder attached to one of those fake trees you get from Ikea when your landlord won’t let you have real plants.)

The day-to-day business of Game of Thrones has always been power – answering the question of who will sit on the Iron Throne, forged by Aegon the Conqueror from the swords of his defeated enemies. But its backdrop is a far bigger threat: the arrival of a winter that will last many years, and the invasion of an army of the undead.

That might seem like an unkind way to think about Michel Barnier and his fellow Brexit negotiators – inexorably marching towards us, briefing papers in hand, while Liam Fox frantically rings a bell at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel – but nonetheless, the whole premise of Game of Thrones is a pretty good metaphor for the current state of British politics.

The current internal Conservative struggle for power might be vicious but it is at least familiar to its contestants; they know which weapons to deploy, which alliances are vital, who owes them a favour. Meanwhile, the true challenge facing every one of them is too frightening to contemplate.

In 2013, this magazine celebrated the early success of the show with a cover depicting one of our terrifying painted mash-ups: “The Tory Game of Thrones.” Our casting has been strangely vindicated. George Osborne was our Jaime Lannister – once the kind of uncomplicated bastard who would push a child out of a window but now largely the purveyor of waspish remarks about other, worse characters. Our Cersei was Theresa May, who spent the early seasons of The Cameron Era in a highly visible but underwritten role. Now, she has just seized power, only to discover herself beset by enemies on all sides. (Plus, Jeremy Corbyn as the High Sparrow would quite like her to walk penitently through the streets while onlookers cry “shame!”)

Michael Gove was our Tyrion Lannister, the kind of man who would shoot his own father while the guy was on the loo (or run a rival’s leadership campaign only to detonate it at the last minute). Jeremy Hunt was Jon Snow, slain by the brotherhood of the Night Shift at A&E, only in this case still waiting for resurrection.

The comparison falls down a bit at Boris Johnson as Daenerys Targaryen, as the former London mayor has not, to my knowledge, ever married a horse lord or hired an army of eunuchs, but it feels like the kind of thing he might do.

We didn’t have David Davis on there – hated by the old king, David Camareon, he was at the time banished to the back benches. Let’s retrospectively appoint him Euron Greyjoy, making a suspiciously seductive offer to Queen Cersei. (Philip Hammond is Gendry, in that most of the country can’t remember who he is but feel he might turn out to be important later.)

That lengthy list shows how Conservative infighting suffers from the same problem that the Game of Thrones screenwriters wrestle with: there are so many characters, and moving the pieces round the board takes up so much time and energy, that we’re in danger of forgetting why it matters who wins. In the books, there is more space to expound on the politics. George R R Martin once said that he came away from The Lord of The Rings asking: “What was Aragorn’s tax policy?” (The author added: “And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?”)

Martin’s fantasy vision also feels relevant to the Tories because its power struggles aren’t about an “endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes”. Instead, everyone is flawed. In Westeros, as in the Conservative Party, it can be difficult to decide who you want to triumph. Sure, Daenerys might seem enlightened, but she watched her brother have molten gold poured down his throat; plucky Arya Stark might tip over from adorable assassin into full-blown psychopath. Similarly, it’s hard to get worked up about the accusation that Philip Hammond said that driving a train was so easy “even a woman” could do it, when David Davis marked his last leadership campaign by posing alongside women in tight T-shirts reading “It’s DD for me”.

The only big difference from the show is that in real life I have sympathy for Barnier and the White Walkers of Brussels. Still, maybe it will turn out that the undead of Game of Thrones are tired of the Seven Kingdoms throwing their weight around and are only marching south to demand money before negotiating a trade deal? That’s the kind of plot twist we’re all waiting for.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder