The latest Suarez scandal is unlikely to spell the end for troublesome striker

The Liverpool board will chew over selling their prized asset - but not for long, says Cameron Sharpe.

 

If Luis Suarez had wanted to endear himself to the players that helped put his name on the shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year award, his decision to sink his teeth into the arm of Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic during yesterday’s 2-2 draw at Anfield has to go down as a poorly conceived thank you. 

In the past, the Uruguayan has cited cultural differences as reason for some of his on-field indiscretions, but even he may struggle to convince the FA that biting others is how they say hello in Montevideo.  

Suarez has already apologised publicly to Ivanovic, but it is likely to be far too little, far too late.

Due to his previous record and severity of his latest offence, Suarez will, in all likelihood, play no further part this season - meaning that he has a near four month break from competitive action before playing again in a Liverpool shirt in August.

Yet, once the dust has settled and the FA have thrown the book at Suarez for his second display of mind-boggling idiocy in the last 18 months, Liverpool Football Club will have to take a business decision on whether or not the 26-year-old should be sold in the summer.

It will be the shortest meeting of the off season.

The discussion will be simple. The former Ajax striker is one of the very few truly world class footballers playing on the red side of Stanley Park. Moralising is for others - Liverpool cannot afford to do away with their troublesome forward.

Were he ten years older with a patchy fitness record and little form to speak of, his bite would prove his footballing epitaph at Anfield. But whilst he maintains value, there is little chance that Brendan Rodgers will be forced accept any of the offers the club will receive this summer.

Chelsea’s handling of John Terry over the past decade is a perfect template for how Liverpool will deal with the Suarez situation.

The former England captain has been involved in a number of scandals which could have cost him his career at Stamford Bridge. Yet, 15 years after he first signed professional terms with Chelsea, he remains the club captain and revered by fans.

His behaviour on the pitch has, generally, been good but his off field indiscretions have been defended resolutely by a club condemned for having no moral backbone.

At 32 and with an equally chequered fitness record, Terry is no longer indispensible and may find that his comeuppance from a decade of misbehaving will come in the form of the club failing to offer him a new contract in 12 months time.

Quite simply, Terry is no longer worth the fuss and therefore not deserving of any further loyalty.

Despite being on a different plane of misconduct, Suarez’s qualities on the pitch will mean that he is far too valuable to be sold - particularly to a rival club. That particular decision could quite literally come back to bite them on the backside.

There will be those who argue that Liverpool have to take a stand “for the good of the game” but there are few fans who would forego Champions League qualification or domestic success to gain the moral high ground.

You don’t hear Fulham fans singing about finishing top of the Fair Play League.

That is not to say that Liverpool won’t be forced to sell. A  fourth consecutive season outside of the Champions League will mean that Suarez himself might want to force through a transfer, allowing him to spend the best years of his career at the top table of European football rather than battling to get a hand on the tablecloth.

First and foremost, football is a business. Those calling for Suarez’s permanent exile would do well to remember that.

Luis Suarez during Liverpool's fixture against Chelsea at Anfield. Photograph: Getty Images

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Leader: Labour is failing. A hard Brexit is looming. But there is no need for fatalism

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit.

Democracy depends on competent opposition. Governments, however well intentioned, require permanent and effective scrutiny to meet the public interest. For this purpose, the role of Her Majesty’s Opposition was enshrined in law 80 years ago. However, at present, and in the week Article 50 is invoked, this constitutional duty is being fulfilled in name alone. (The Scottish National Party speaks only for the Scottish interest.)

Since re-electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, the Labour Party has become the weakest opposition in postwar history. It lost the recent Copeland by-election to the Conservatives (a seat the Tories had not held since 1931) and trails the governing party, by up to 19 points, in opinion polls. The Tories feel no pressure from Labour. They confidently predict they will retain power until 2030 or beyond. Yet as the poll tax debacle and the Iraq War demonstrate, prolonged periods of single-party rule run the danger of calamitous results – not least, this time, the break-up of Britain.

Under Mr Corbyn, who formally lost the confidence of 80 per cent of his MPs last summer (and has not regained it), Labour has the least impressive and least qualified front bench in its history. Its enfeeblement has left a void that no party is capable of filling. “The grass-roots social movement of the left that was supposed to arrive in Jeremy Corbyn’s wake has not shown up,” the academic Nick Pearce, a former head of Gordon Brown’s policy unit, writes on page 36.

In these new times, the defining struggle is no longer between parties but within the Conservative Party. As a consequence, many voters have never felt more unrepresented or disempowered. Aided by an increasingly belligerent right-wing press, the Tory Brexiteers are monopolising and poisoning debate: as the novelist Ian McEwan said, “The air in my country is very foul.” Those who do not share their libertarian version of Brexit Britain are impugned as the “enemies” of democracy. Theresa May has a distinctive vision but will the libertarian right allow her the time and space to enact it?

Let us not forget that the Conservatives have a majority of just 15 or that Labour’s problems did not begin with Mr Corbyn’s leadership. However, his divisiveness and unpopularity have accelerated the party’s decline. Although the Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, elected by a fraction of his union membership, loftily pronounced that the Labour leader had 15 months left to prove himself, the country cannot afford to wait that long.

Faced with the opposition’s weakness, some have advocated a “progressive alliance” to take on the Conservatives. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the nationalist parties are urged to set aside their tribalism. Yet it is fantasy to believe that such an alliance would provide stable majority government when nearly four million people voted for Ukip in 2015. There has also been chatter about the creation of a new centrist party – the Democrats, or, as Richard Dawkins writes on page 54, the European Party. Under our first-past-the-post electoral system, however, a new party would risk merely perpetuating the fragmentation of the opposition. If Labour is too weak to win, it is too strong to die.

The UK’s departure from the EU poses fundamental questions about the kind of country we wish to be. For some on the right, Brexit is a Trojan Horse to remake Britain as a low-tax, small-state utopia. Others aspire to a protectionist fortress of closed borders and closed minds. Mr Corbyn was re-elected by a landslide margin last summer. The Leave campaign’s victory was narrower yet similarly decisive. But these events are not an excuse for quietism. Labour must regain its historic role as the party of the labour interest. Labour’s purpose is not to serve the interests of a particular faction but to redress the power of capital for the common good. And it must have a leader capable of winning power.

If Labour’s best and brightest MPs are unwilling to serve in the shadow cabinet, they should use their freedom to challenge an under-scrutinised government and prove their worth. They should build cross-party alliances. They should evolve a transformative policy programme. They should think seriously about why there has been a post-liberal turn in our politics.

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit. At present, the mood on the Labour benches is one of fatalism and passivity. This cannot go on.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition