Liverpool must show strength in face of extraordinary Suarez ban

The Uruguayan's 10-game ban leaves the Anfield outfit facing a summer of questions, but all may not be lost for the striker on Merseyside
By Jonathan Birchall

You are sometimes left wondering where on Earth the Football Association pull their numbers from.

Is there a checklist perhaps? Headbutt = three games. Racially abusing a fellow professional = four. Biting = 10. Is it blind guesswork? Pin the ban on the footballer?

Arbitrary or not, the fact is that Luis Suarez will not be able to play in Liverpool's next 10 games, pending appeal.

England's other lengthy bans

Eric Cantona
Nine months, kicking fan

Mark Bosnich
Nine months, failing drugs test

Rio Ferdinand
Eight months, missing drugs test

Joey Barton
12 games, violent misconduct

Paolo Di Canio
11 games, pushing over referee

David Prutton
10 games, pushing over official

Paul Davis
Nine games, punching opponent

Luis Suarez
Eight games, racial abuse
If the club stick by him following the decision, as they have so loyally done since he joined the club two months after taking his teeth to an opponent while playing for Ajax in November 2010, he will not play again until October.

Both club and player say they are "shocked and disappointed" with the severity of the ruling. After all, without his goals and assists this season, Brendan Rodgers' side would be 16th in the Premier League. Suarez is world class. Pivotal. But indispensable?

Therein lies the ultimate question for Liverpool, Fenway Sports Group and Rodgers this summer.

Publicly, Liverpool will continue their insistence that the Uruguayan is not for sale. In-house, discussions will more honestly centre around their ultimate choice; keep faith in the hope of rehabilitation, or sell up, realise a hefty profit and cut ties with the genius but troubled striker.

Suarez's movements over the coming weeks will be telling. After all, the seven-game ban which the Uruguayan received for biting PSV's Otman Bakkal two and-a-half years ago had not even finished by the time he arrived on Merseyside. That suspension, spent largely in Uruguay ahead of and during the Amsterdam side's winter break, was a veritable masterclass in engineering a move to England.

"I used to think that English football was not my style," said Suarez in December 2012, while he was still, in body if not mind, an Ajax player. "But I saw Carlos Tevez play at Boca and Corinthians and I never imagined that he would play in the Premier League.

"When I see the way that Tevez plays there I think I can be a big name in England. It's because of the energy, and the spirit they put into the game in England. Now, I think it's a kind of football that suits me."

It's enough to raise eyebrows at Anfield, if not quite keep him on lockdown.

Liverpool are aware of interest in Suarez, with Manchester City, Real Madrid and Juventus having all been linked to the man who was leading the Premier League scoring charts before Robin van Persie eviscerated Aston Villa with three goals on Monday.

And as exclusively revealed earlier this week, the Reds would be willing to entertain marquee offers of £40 million upwards. Liverpool, for now, have control. His new long-term, £100,000-a-week contract in August did what Premier League defenders can't - tying the striker down. Well, for now, at least.

33/1 Luis Suarez is 33/1 with Paddy Power to be handed a lifetime ban before 2016
Typical of a man who is becoming as well known for his propensity to nibble the opposition as he is to knock a hat-trick past them, Suarez has a habit of opening his mouth at the most inopportune moments for his club.

"If another team comes around with more prospects of competing in international club competition games which is willing to have me, they are welcome," he said in March.

"We would talk to the club. We would see if I want to go." Liverpool must be looking for a muzzle. And fast.

The simple economics suggest that Liverpool should hold tight. After another embarrassing episode for the club, his price will have followed his reputation in plummeting. At 26, you suspect he hasn't yet reached his peak. Sir Alex Ferguson did not sell Eric Cantona for karate kicking a fan at Selhurst Park. After all, some bad boys are just too good.

For now, the message is simple: keep him honest, keep him loyal and keep his mouth shut, in more ways than one.

Should he stay or should he go remains for Liverpool to decide. Either way, they have plenty to chew over.

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