Friday, 17 February 2012

Suarez’s Old Friends Show His New Employers What Loyalty Means

After a week in which Luis Suarez was left to walk alone by the power base of his current club, it was some old friends who showed the unreserved loyalty and support that he should have got from Fenway Sports Group and the Liverpool FC board. 

The day started with Suarez’s Uruguay captain, Diego Lugano, claiming he "did not deserve" the criticism levelled at him throughout the past few months. Speaking with a level headed self-assurance, Lugano said "He has gone through a few months he did not deserve. He followed his principles. We live in a democracy and if you do not want to greet someone, do not greet them - and less so if that person has made you experience bad moments. It's a football argument and many false moralists and hypocrites have profited, and Luis is the only innocent party."

This statement was followed up by Uruguay President Jose Mujica, who underlined that there is “solidarity with Suarez” throughout the country. In a direct reference to Evra’s privileged upbringing, Mujica said “He’s a child born from poverty who’s leagues away from having received academic training in diplomatic protocol.”

The next event in an extraordinary day of support for Suarez came in the game between his former club, Ajax, and Manchester United. Before, during and after the game, the Ajax fans chanted Suarez’s name and even conducted a rendition of “We are not racist we only hate Mancs” in Dutch.

During his spell at Ajax, Suarez scored 81 goals in 110 games, was awarded the captaincy of the club at the age of 22 and joined the likes of Cruyff, van Basten and Bergkamp in their “100 Club”. His place as an Ajax legend is comfortably secured.

Following close behind the Ajax game was a match involving his first club, Nacional. Before the game, the players paraded a “Fuerza Luis” banner around the pitch to rapturous applause from all four corners of the ground. 

In the crowd, there were lots of banners in support of Suarez, including two which read “Suarez is from Nacional so Evra must be from (hated rivals) Penerol” and “Wash your mouth out Ferguson before you speak of Sir Suarez” 

Suarez will always be a hero in Nacional. He joined as an 18 year old in 2005 and scored 10 goals in 21 appearances to fire them to the domestic title. 

The support Suarez has received from around the world is in stark contrast to the way he has been treated by Liverpool. Ian Ayre, the Managing Director, has changed his mind on Suarez based on the views of people who he perceives to be more important than the players and fans of the club.

Speaking just a few weeks ago, Ayre said “We will support him and our fans will support him. We’ll work with him because he’s a great player and a great guy. He’ll get 100% support from Liverpool Football Club.”

This 100% support did not last long. One article from a minor shareholder in FSG (New York Times) and some inappropriate comments from Standard Chartered were enough to convince Ayre to turn against Suarez. In cutting remarks over the hand shake incident he said “We are extremely disappointed Luis Suarez did not shake hands with Patrice Evra”.

The forced apologies from Dalglish and Suarez which accompanied this statement from Ian Ayre showed clearly that the current hierarchy at LFC are prepared to put money over morals. Worryingly for Liverpool, it was another sign that they have one of the weakest MDs in the Premier League.

In the wake of the rebuke from those he should have been able to rely on for support, Suarez will have taken great comfort from the events at Ajax and Nacional. The incredible mark he has left on these clubs is clear to see. It underlines how fortunate Liverpool are to have him on their books. It also shows their terribly misplaced priorities over this affair.

Two continents spoke with one voice yesterday to ensure that Suarez will not walk alone. In doing so, they showed up the current Liverpool hierarchy for what they are: misguided, financially motivated capitalists.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Suarezgate: Why FSG Finally Got Involved

The silence from Fenway Sports Group since the Suarez race row began has been deafening. Where did they stand on the scandal? Did they back Kenny, or were they embarrassed by the whole episode? As they never publicly commented on it, we will never know.
One thing we can be pretty sure of is that, in the hours following Suarez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand, FSG finally said to the Liverpool management “enough is enough.”
Looking at the incident itself, Suarez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand was not such a big deal. It was far less controversial than the racial abuse allegation which started it all. It was also less provocative than the T Shirts worn by the Liverpool players in support of Suarez. In many ways, it was a storm in a tea cup.
So why did that incident finally force FSG into action?
Firstly, there was the reaction of the players on the pitch, including their bust up at half time. The Manchester United players were in no mood to play the incident down and actively sought out a confrontation with the Liverpool players in the tunnel. The police got involved and the finger of blame was pointed at Suarez and his handshake snub.
All this occurred during the biggest game of the season, with a worldwide television audience of half a billion watching. Whoever was to blame, we did not portray the global image John W Henry had in mind for the club when he bought it.
Secondly, the media and social network sites turned the storm in a teacup into a hurricane. This lead to John W Henry’s Twitter feed getting completely bombarded by a general public who had been whipped into frenzy by Sky Sports. In simple terms, Henry will care more about the global image of the club than he will about a local rivalry. The feedback he was getting on Saturday night was that our global image was in tatters.
Thirdly, and crucially, the New York Times decided to have their say.
The New York Times owns 7% of FSG (until recently they owned 17.75%). Therefore, when they speak, Henry and Werner listen to what they have to say. In a direct challenge to their fellow board members, the Times position was as follows: “If the Fenway Sports Group is to be the responsible team owner in soccer that it has proved to be in baseball, it needs to get hold of Liverpool, its club in England's Premier League, and repair its global image fast.
"On Saturday, Liverpool lost at Manchester United, 2-1, allowing United to temporarily move into first place in the Premier League. There is no disgrace in such a loss; United, the defending English champion, is vying to keep that title this season, and it very rarely loses at home.
"But there was disgrace, witnessed by television viewers around the world, in the refusal of Liverpool's Luis Suarez to shake the hand of United's Patrice Evra before kick-off."
The article concluded by saying: "It is time for John Henry and Tom Werner, leaders of the Fenway Group that controls Liverpool, to state clearly the direction the team will take on this issue."
Within hours of this article being published, all the defiance in Liverpool’s dressing room had disappeared. Ian Ayre put a statement out which directly attacked Suarez. Kenny Dalglish sided with his managing director. Suarez fell into line, issuing his own unreserved apology.
It was a turn of events that demonstrated where the real power at Anfield lies: thousands of miles away in Boston. There is no doubt that FSG have the long term health of their global brand at heart, but their actions could have far reaching implications for Suarez and Dalglish. Serious questions are already being asked about what the future will hold for them.

It will be very interesting to see how events transpire.
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