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

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue