The saddest part was the reaction—the way Luis Suarez reached up and grabbed his front teeth after chomping Giorgio Chielleni’s shoulder. That’s the part that told us most.
The bite was vicious and desperate and yes—as many psychologists have since pointed out—it was regressive. But the attempt to cover up it, to make it look like just another collision in a hard-fought battle, was the saddest thing we’ve witnessed on a pitch so far at this World Cup. Watch it again. There is brief a moment right after that unmistakable biting motion, when Suarez’s reaction seems delayed and confused. Then he clutches his mouth, like he’s been punched in the face, trying to bait the world into believing that he was the real victim. You’ve seen more convincing he-hit-me-first performances on school playgrounds.
FIFA could have brought in an elementary school vice-principal to adjudicate the subsequent proceedings, but even without the help of such expertise the federation got it right, suspending Uruguay’s star striker for nine international matches and banning him from playing any soccer for four months. It almost seemed light considering this is the man’s third biting incident. The first time was shocking. The second was baffling. This, the third, is just sad.
The decision takes Suarez out of the World Cup and will carry over into the Copa America next summer. It will affect his hope of getting a transfer from Liverpool to Barcelona or Real Madrid, because the four-month ban will cost him nearly a third of the season. The lengthy suspension, possible financial loss and heaps of international scorn—an industry of Suarez-themed Jaws and Silence of The Lambs posters has emerged—are probably enough punishment for a man whose penchant for flesh actually had bookmakers taking bets on whether he’d strike again at the World Cup.
But the ruling is most devastating to Uruguay and its fans. A talented team has lost its only world-class player. Any hope they had in this World Cup rested on Suarez’s shoulder until he took a bite out of someone else’s. Uruguay relied on his ability to turn difficult opportunities into spectacular goals. Certainly no one else on the team—and few in the world—can accomplish that the way Suarez does. Now up against Colombia in the round of 16, Uruguay and its weak defence face a goal-scoring monster. If they do get past Colombia, Uruguay won’t get beyond that.
It was must be infuriating to rely on a superstar like Suarez whose bizarre behavior implodes any chance the nation’s team has of going far. And honestly, it must be infuriating to be Suarez himself—amongst the best in the game, but continually wounded by his own destructive behavior. That’s how it seemed in that brief moment, as Chiellini fell to the ground, with dental records freshly carved into his shoulder. You’d like to believe that Suarez knew then what he had done. That in that flash of a second, Suarez felt a pang of guilt and embarrassment and frustration—Again?. Then he clutched his teeth in agony—and I believed him. Not the lie he was trying to sell, but the deeper pain of being incapable of basic discernment. Surely he must feel that. Of forgetting that the world is watching and that a legacy can be defined by the stupidest of actions. I want to believe that, for a moment, the pain Suarez felt was real and that he was his own victim, once again.
His teammates came to his defence. One of the Uruguayan players even tried to pull Chiellini’s shirt back up his shoulder as he showed the refs the grill marks. After the 1-0 win over Italy, Uruguay’s Diego Lugano scoffed at reporters’ questions: “What incident? The pictures don’t show anything. They show an approximation.” And when the press plastered that approximation on front pages around the world, some of Uruguay’s media charged that the photos were altered, reports exaggerated, and hinted at a conspiracy. England had it out for Suarez. So did Italy.
It was an embarrassing reaction to something so blatant. It was the reaction of supporters who knew their hero had let them down. Like so much of this dark comedy, it was sad. This undeniable realization of guilt, followed with a desperate attempt to shift the blame—to make it seem like it was all a lie, in such bumbling, clumsy fashion.
Uruguay will carry that like a scar for the rest of the World Cup. Suarez will carry it longer. It’s three bites now, and his self-inflicted marks will never go away.