NATAL, June 25: Luis Suarez is one of the explosive talents and characters in football who scores sublime goals at crucial moments and then scars his reputation with his seemingly uncontrollable mouth.
The hot-headed Uruguayan is back in trouble after a new alleged biting controversy at the World Cup after a stunning season with Liverpool when his brilliance on the pitch had started to ease memories of past brushes with authority.
But the 27-year-old has quite a history.
The 2010 World Cup quarter-final between Uruguay and Ghana was level 1-1 in the final minute of extra-time when Suarez used his hand to keep out Dominic Adiyah’s header.
Suarez was sent off but Asamoah Gyan failed to convert the resulting penalty. With the match ending 1-1, Uruguay claimed victory in a shootout. Suarez’s joyous celebrations — he said he made the “save of the tournament” — angered many neutrals who felt justice was not done.
“I stick with the feeling of having helped my team,” he said of the incident recently.
“I stopped a goal, and I believe that it is worse when you stop a goal and injure an opponent, seriously injure them, and get sent off for that.
“Stopping a goal with my hand I believe did nothing evil to anyone, it was just stopping a goal.”
Remarkably the Liverpool star’s reputation plunged lower in the next three years.
In December 2011, Suarez was banned for eight matches and fined £40,000 ($67,000) for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during a match at Anfield.
Suarez maintained that the word he used — “negrito” — did not have racist connotations in his country, but the damage was done.
Then in April 2013 he was handed a 10-match suspension for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic during another Premier League game.
The barrage of criticism that greeted both incidents would have been enough to shatter the spirit of many players and it would have been no surprise to see Suarez quit England.
But the man nicknamed “El Pistolero” or the gun-slinger in Uruguay is made of sterner stuff.
Suarez was brought back into the fold by Reds boss Brendan Rodgers following the conclusion of the ban for the Ivanovic clash and he returned with a sustained burst of brilliance that saw him score 31 Premier League goals and claim the players’ Footballer of the Year title.
Suarez was at his brilliant best again during Liverpool’s 6-3 victory over Cardiff in March, netting his third hat-trick of the season.
The scintillating run of form, which took Liverpool to the verge of claiming the Premier League title, rehabilitated his image in the eyes of many in England.
There was also widespread sympathy for the striker when he had to undergo an operation on a damaged meniscus on May 22.
Suarez had repeatedly said he feared suffering the knee ligament injuries that kept England’s Theo Walcott and Colombia’s Radamel Falcao out of the World Cup.
“The truth is that I am scared of what happened to Falcao and Walcott. But you live in the present and you always give your best for the club – you can’t be thinking about that all the time,” Suarez said.
Suarez battled back to fitness in weeks.
He missed Uruguay’s opening defeat to Costa Rica but scored twice to sink England last Thursday. Ironically, the England team that crashed out of the World Cup, included many of his Liverpool teammates including captain Steven Gerrard.
Despite being unrepentant about his past record, Suarez had been desperate to make headlines at the World Cup for the right reason.
“It is a unique opportunity and we all want to be there,” he said.
Before the biting now being investigated by FIFA, Suarez had been at the centre of reports that Real Madrid and Barcelona were ready to break the bank to prise Suarez away from Liverpool. Now all bets are off.