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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Qatar is determined to stand up to its Gulf neighbours - but at what price?

The tensions date back to the maverick rule of Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

For much of the two decades plus since Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani deposed his father to become emir of Qatar, the tiny gas-rich emirate’s foreign policy has been built around two guiding principles: differentiating itself from its Gulf neighbours, particularly the regional Arab hegemon Saudi Arabia, and insulating itself from Saudi influence. Over the past two months, Hamad’s strategy has been put to the test. From a Qatari perspective it has paid off. But at what cost?

When Hamad became emir in 1995, he instantly ruffled feathers. He walked out of a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) because, he believed, Saudi Arabia had jumped the queue to take on the council’s rotating presidency. Hamad also spurned the offer of mediation from the then-President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. This further angered his neighbours, who began making public overtures towards Khalifa, the deposed emir, who was soon in Abu Dhabi and promising a swift return to power in Doha. In 1996, Hamad accused Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE of sponsoring a coup attempt against Hamad, bringing GCC relations to a then-all-time low.

Read more: How to end the stand off in the Gulf

The spat was ultimately resolved, as were a series of border and territory disputes between Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but mistrust of Hamad - and vice versa - has lingered ever since. As crown prince, Hamad and his key ally Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani had pushed for Qatar to throw off what they saw as the yoke of Saudi dominance in the Gulf, in part by developing the country’s huge gas reserves and exporting liquefied gas on ships, rather than through pipelines that ran through neighbouring states. Doing so freed Qatar from the influence of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Saudi-dominated oil cartel which sets oil output levels and tries to set oil market prices, but does not have a say on gas production. It also helped the country avoid entering into a mooted GCC-wide gas network that would have seen its neighbours control transport links or dictate the – likely low - price for its main natural resource.

Qatar has since become the richest per-capita country in the world. Hamad invested the windfall in soft power, building the Al Jazeera media network and spending freely in developing and conflict-afflicted countries. By developing its gas resources in joint venture with Western firms including the US’s Exxon Mobil and France’s Total, it has created important relationships with senior officials in those countries. Its decision to house a major US military base – the Al Udeid facility is the largest American base in the Middle East, and is crucial to US military efforts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – Qatar has made itself an important partner to a major Western power. Turkey, a regional ally, has also built a military base in Qatar.

Hamad and Hamad bin Jassem also worked to place themselves as mediators in a range of conflicts in Sudan, Somalia and Yemen and beyond, and as a base for exiled dissidents. They sold Qatar as a promoter of dialogue and tolerance, although there is an open question as to whether this attitude extends to Qatar itself. The country, much like its neighbours, is still an absolute monarchy in which there is little in the way of real free speech or space for dissent. Qatar’s critics, meanwhile, argue that its claims to promote human rights and free speech really boil down to an attempt to empower the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha funded Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups during and after the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, while Al Jazeera cheerleaded protest movements, much to the chagrin of Qatar's neighbours. They see the group as a powerful threat to their dynastic rule and argue that the Brotherhood is a “gateway drug” to jihadism. In 2013,  after Western allies became concerned that Qatar had inadvertently funded jihadist groups in Libya and Syria, Hamad was forced to step down in favour of his son Tamim. Soon, Tamim came under pressure from Qatar’s neighbours to rein in his father’s maverick policies.

Today, Qatar has a high degree of economic independence from its neighbours and powerful friends abroad. Officials in Doha reckon that this should be enough to stave off the advances of the “Quad” of countries – Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - that have been trying to isolate the emirate since June. They have been doing this by cutting off diplomatic and trade ties, and labelling Qatar a state sponsor of terror groups. For the Quad, the aim is to end what it sees as Qatar’s disruptive presence in the region. For officials in Doha, it is an attempt to impinge on the country’s sovereignty and turn Qatar into a vassal state. So far, the strategies put in place by Hamad to insure Qatar from regional pressure have paid off. But how long can this last?

Qatar’s Western allies are also Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s. Thus far, they have been paralysed by indecision over the standoff, and after failed mediation attempts have decided to leave the task of resolving what they see as a “family affair” to the Emir of Kuwait, Sabah al-Sabah. As long as the Quad limits itself to economic and diplomatic attacks, they are unlikely to pick a side. It is by no means clear they would side with Doha in a pinch (President Trump, in defiance of the US foreign policy establishment, has made his feelings clear on the issue). Although accusations that Qatar sponsors extremists are no more true than similar charges made against Saudi Arabia or Kuwait – sympathetic local populations and lax banking regulations tend to be the major issue – few Western politicians want to be seen backing an ally, that in turn many diplomats see as backing multiple horses.

Meanwhile, although Qatar is a rich country, the standoff is hurting its economy. Reuters reports that there are concerns that the country’s massive $300bn in foreign assets might not be as liquid as many assume. This means that although it has plenty of money abroad, it could face a cash crunch if the crisis rolls on.

Qatar might not like its neighbours, but it can’t simply cut itself off from the Gulf and float on to a new location. At some point, there will need to be a resolution. But with the Quad seemingly happy with the current status quo, and Hamad’s insurance policies paying off, a solution looks some way off.

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