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.

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The three big mistakes the government has made in its Brexit talks

Nicola Sturgeon fears that the UK has no negotiating position at all. It's worse than she thinks. 

It’s fair to say that the first meeting of the government’s Brexit ministers and the leaders of the devolved legislatures did not go well.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon told reporters outside that it had all been “deeply frustrating”, and that it was impossible for her to undermine the United Kingdom’s negotiating position as “I can’t undermine something that doesn’t exist, and at the moment it doesn’t seem to me like there is a UK negotiating strategy”.

To which cynical observers might say: she would, wouldn’t she? It’s in Sturgeon’s interest to paint the Westminster government as clueless and operating in a way that puts Scotland’s interests at risk. Maybe so, but Carwyn Jones, her Welsh opposite number, tends to strike a more conciliatory figure at these events – he’s praised both George Osborne and David Cameron in the past.

So it’s hard not to be alarmed at his statement to the press that there is still “huge uncertainty” about what the British government’s negotiating position. Even Arlene Foster, the first minister in Northern Ireland, whose party, the DUP, is seen as an increasingly reliable ally for the Conservative government, could only really volunteer that “we’re in a negotiation and we will be in a negotiation and it will be complex”.

All of which makes Jeremy Corbyn’s one-liner in the Commons today that the government is pursuing neither hard Brexit nor soft Brexit but “chaotic Brexit” ring true.

It all adds to a growing suspicion that the government’s negotiating strategy might be, as Jacqui Smith once quipped of Ed Miliband’s policy review, something of “a pregnant panda – it's been a very long time in the making and no one's quite sure if there's anything in there anyway”.

That’s not the case – but the reality is not much more comforting. The government has long believed, as Philip Hammond put when being grilled by the House of Lords on the issue:

"There's an intrinsic tension here between democratic accountability of the government and effective negotiation with a third party. Our paramount objective must be to get a good deal for Britain. I am afraid will not be achieved by spelling out our negotiating strategy."

That was echoed by Theresa May in response to Corbyn’s claim that the government has no plan for Brexit:

 “We have a plan, which is not to give out details of the negotiation as they are being negotiated”

Are Hammond and May right? Well, sort of. There is an innate tension between democratic accountability and a good deal, of course. The more is known about what the government’s red lines in negotiations, the higher the price they will have to pay to protect. That’s why, sensibly, Hammond, both as Foreign Secretary during the dying days of David Cameron’s government, and now as Chancellor, has attempted to head off public commitments about the shape of the Brexit deal.

But – and it’s a big but – the government has already shown a great deal of its hand. May made three big reveals about the government’s Brexit strategy it in her conference speech: firstly, she started the clock ticking on when Britain will definitely leave the European Union, by saying she will activate Article 50 no later than 31 March 2017. Secondly, she said that Brexit meant that Britain would control its own borders. And thirdly, she said that Brexit meant that Britain would no longer be subject to the judgements of the European Court of Justice.

The first reveal means that there is no chance that any of 27 remaining nations of the European Union will break ranks and begin informal talks before Article 50 is triggered.

The second reveal makes it clear that Britain will leave the single market, because none of the four freedoms – of goods, services, capital or people – can be negotiated away, not least because of the fear of political contagion within the EU27, as an exit deal which allowed the United Kingdom to maintain the three other freedoms while giving up the fourth would cause increased pressure from Eurosceptics in western Europe.

And the third reveal makes it equally clear that Britain will leave the customs union as there is no way you can be part of a union if you do not wish to accept its legal arbiter.

So the government has already revealed its big priorities and has therefore jacked up the price, meaning that the arguments about not revealing the government’s hand is not as strong as it ideally would be.

The other problem, though, is this: Theresa May’s Brexit objectives cannot be met without a hard Brexit, with the only question the scale of the initial shock. As I’ve written before, there is a sense that the government might be able to “pay to play”, ie, in exchange for continuing to send money to Brussels and to member states, the United Kingdom could maintain a decent standard of access to the single market.

My impression is that the mood in Brussels now makes this very tricky. The tone coming out of Conservative party conference has left goodwill in short supply, meaning that a “pay to play” deal is unlikely. But the other problem is that, by leaving so much of its objectives in the dark, Theresa May is not really laying the groundwork for a situation where she can return to Britain with an exit deal where Britain pays large sums to the European Union for a worse deal than the one it has now. (By the way, that is very much the best case scenario for what she might come back with.) Silence may make for good negotiations in Brussels – but in terms of the negotiation that may follow swiftly after in Westminster, it has entirely the opposite effect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.