Ajax appetite: When Suarez took his first bite

The attacker made the headlines for all the wrong reasons on Sunday, yet it is not the first time his hunger on the pitch has got him in trouble

By Stefan Coerts

Not for the first time this season, Liverpool star Luis Suarez was at the centre of attention once more. It was not for his stoppage-time equaliser in the Reds’ 2-2 draw against Chelsea that was the main talking point, nor his terrific pass into Daniel Sturridge for the substitute’s opener, no, it was something far more sinister.

Instead, it was the Uruguay international’s inexplicable decision to bite Branislav Ivanovic’s arm halfway through the second half, again underlining his reputation as the ultimate supervillain.

Whereas the majority of football fans will have been shell-shocked by the incident, it will have been deja vu for those who followed Suarez’s career before he moved to Liverpool in January 2011. Biting opponents may not be part of the repertoire of many players, yet the prolific attacker has proven to be somewhat of a specialist as he previously turned vampire in November 2010 when the then Ajax forward took a bite out of PSV midfielder Otman Bakkal‘s shoulder.

After team-mate Rasmus Lindgren received a red card in the closing stages of the scoreless Eredivisie draw between both Dutch giants, a scuffle took place involving a number of players. Bakkal stamped on Suarez’s foot during the brawl, provoking the 26-year-old to react by biting the surprised midfielder. Referee Bjorn Kuipers failed to spot the incident, yet the attacker would not get away with his crime.

Understandably, Suarez’s bizarre action led to an intense debate in the media about what punishment should be taken and Ajax opted not to wait for the Dutch football assocation’s (KNVB) verdict. The Godenzonen did play their star striker in the Champions League match against Real Madrid three days after the incident, but then handed him a two-match ban, as well as a hefty fine that would be donated to charity.

The club’s reaction did little to satisfy the Dutch press, though, with even Ajax-minded paper De Telegraaf calling for a more severe punishment, labelling Suarez: ‘The cannibal of Ajax’. The KNVB weren’t too impressed with Ajax’s punishment either and took a firm stance by handing the controversial forward a seven-match ban.

Meanwhile, Bakkal refused to judge his opponent and remained coy on the incident when questioned about it by the press.

“Things were pretty hectic and a lot of incidents took place. Perhaps I could have milked the situation a bit more, but as I said, it was all quite hectic. I’d rather talk about the game itself,” he told reporters at the time.

The cannibal of Ajax | Bakkal shows Atiba Hutchison where Suarez left his mark

Suarez on the other hand initially downplayed his actions, claiming it happened in the heat of the moment. He also claimed to have already made peace with Bakkal after the final whistle. Only days later, did he admit he was in the wrong and an official apology followed shortly after.

“I was wrong. What I did also damages Ajax’s image. I should be a role model as Ajax captain. What Bakkal did was wrong as well, but my behaviour even worse,” a first statement read, before going one step further the week after.

“I am sorry about what happened against PSV. I would like to apologise to Bakkal and the Ajax fans. I realise that my behaviour was wrong. It all happened in the rush of the moment. You can’t think properly at such a moment. You feel bad afterwards though and regret your actions.”

The most important consequence of Suarez’s bite was not his lengthy suspension, but that his reputation was tarnished. Life was impossible for him in the Netherlands. A winter transfer therefore away from the club seemed a realistic option.

Indeed, the 0-0 draw against PSV would prove to be his last Eredivisie game for the Amsterdam giants. Only days after serving the last match of his seven-game ban, Liverpool made an offer for Suarez and Ajax were happy to cash in on the attacker after the Reds eventually proved willing to match their asking price.

Some 27 months after his move to Anfield, a similar scenario could be on the cards this summer. And although the Uruguay international may have already apologised for what he did, and Liverpool moved quickly to condemn their star player’s offence, the FA is unlikely to be lenient with action they take against Suarez: another hefty ban seems appropriate.

The forward has long been linked with a move elsewhere and the latest developments could very well be a catalyst for change as clubs from across Europe closely monitor Suarez’s situation. Liverpool face a tough task to decide whether they are willing to forgive Suarez and if the South American still has a future in England.

One thing’s for sure, though, regardless of what the Reds decide, the attacker will continue to divide opinion wherever he plies his trade.

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