MANCHESTER, England — Aggrieved at the severity of Luis Suarez’s 10-match ban for biting an opponent, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers launched a robust defence of the striker Thursday and said the punishment was given "against the man rather than the incident."
Suarez was hit with one of English football’s longest suspensions for on-pitch misbehaviour after biting Branislav Ivanovic during Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Sunday.
"He has a sanction that doesn’t really fit what he did," Rodgers said. "I can’t help but look at it and look at the sanction that’s been put on Luis for the incident, and honestly feel the punishment has been against the man rather than the incident. That’s my underlying feeling."
Backing up his theory, Rodgers cited a similar offence committed in 2006 by Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe, who only received a yellow card. Defoe escaped further punishment because the referee saw the incident at the time, meaning the incident couldn’t be looked at retroactively. In the same year, Chester’s Sean Hessey was banned for five matches for a bite on Stockport’s Liam Dickinson in a lower-league match in England.
"For him (Suarez) to receive that when other comparisons of similar instances is somewhat different, is hard to take," Rodgers said. "It is the severity of the ban that has hurt most. That is something we are bitterly disappointed with."
A disciplinary panel ruled that a regular three-match ban for violent conduct was "clearly insufficient" and added seven games to Suarez’s suspension, which rules him out for the rest of the campaign and for the first six matches of next season.
Suarez has until Friday to appeal against the extra seven games added to his sanction.
The Uruguay international, who was fined by Liverpool after admitting to biting Ivanovic, was banned for seven matches in 2010 for a similar offence while playing for Ajax against PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch league. That incident earned him the "Cannibal of Ajax" nickname.
Suarez was also suspended for eight games in December 2011 for making racist insults toward Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during a match.
"I think on reflection, whenever you look at it in the cold light of day, it was violent conduct. The football club admitted it, Luis admitted it — he understood he needed to be punished," Rodgers said. "But I think we have a punishment with absolutely no intention toward helping a rehabilitation of the player. That’s what’s disappointing. Maybe he needs a bit of help."
Critics say Rodgers is in danger of making Suarez the victim in the case, just like Liverpool did in the racism controversy involving Evra when the club was heavily criticized. However, Rodgers is unceasing in his backing of the Premier League’s second-highest scorer this season with 23 goals.
"He hasn’t let me down one bit, not at all," Rodgers said. "I believe if I had half-a-dozen players with the similar mentality we would be in a different position as a club.
"He fell way below the standards set at the club but it doesn’t mean he should be thrown to the garbage, which is what has happened with a lot of people in the last few days. He is working tirelessly, him and his family, to fit into the way of life in this country."
Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina said Thursday the length of Suarez’s suspension is "absurd, out of proportion and unfair."
"He is being treated differently, I don’t know if it’s because he’s Uruguayan or because he’s had a previous episode like this," Reina told Spanish radio station Cadena Cope. "It seems that the people making the decisions have got it in for Luis a little bit. That’s the way I see it."