Ahead of Brazil 2014, a Ghanaian shares his love-hate story with one of football’s most divisive characters
By Sammie Frimpong
Fellow soccer-loving countrymen,
As you read this, you might chuckle. Worse still, you could even decide to hit the exit/close button while only halfway through. For the sake of fairness, though, do not take the latter option.
Somehow, I do believe there are a few of you out there who share my sentiments as expressed here - at least to a certain extent - so do hear me out, please.
Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez, as most would concur, is football’s ultimate pantomime villain. His inimitable catalogue of bites, handballs and dives confirms that much.
Superficially, though, he appears quite the harmless fella, even cuddly; hardly any different from the go-to guy-next-door you would call to help fix a broken burner late in the night.
Buck teeth, check.
Cheesy grin, check.
Cheery persona, also.
With the ball at his feet, too, Suarez is certainly a man to be admired, isn't he? The Salto-born currently stands out as one of football’s brightest talents, as he terrorises entire defences week-in, week-out in the English Premier League with flicks and shimmies, lobs and assists, goals and pace. As far as the modern game goes, El Pistolero’s skill-set is rivaled only by an elite few.
There are some who have even predicted he is a Ballon d’Or winner in-waiting, and that claim is hard to contend, although it could be a few more years in coming.
As a Ghanaian, though, I am supposed to regard Suarez with a loathing. Red-hot loathing, if you like. And, as you are probably aware, that isn't really my fault. It is wholly his. Four years ago, he broke my heart - surely yours, too - when he deliberately punched clear a header that would certainly have made the Black Stars Africa's first World Cup semi-finalists. He called it a 'hand of God' (for evidence to the contrary, please refer to Job 34:10,12), but I will always describe it, more than anything, as an act of folly and sheer cruelty. With that deed of infamy, he replaced Lubos Michel - that Slovakian referee who rendered such a disgraceful account of himself when Ghana played Brazil in a Germany 2006 Round of 16 clash - as public enemy No.1 in Ghana.
There is one small problem, though.
For much of the last three years, I have found it a tad difficult to live up to my national 'obligation' of fostering animosity towards Suarez, simply because he signed for Liverpool, the English club I sympathise with. With the 27-year-old pulling all the strings that have drawn the Reds ever closer to the impossibly high pedestal it once stood atop, it is indeed hard to blame me.
Hence as the next Fifa World Cup, due June this year in Brazil, beckons, I find Suarez and his Uruguayan band fiercely contesting the likes of Spain and Germany as the other participating team that could claim my keen attention and backing when the Stars aren't playing.
Yes, I do concede it doesn't seem morally right and, really, this issue ought to be a non-starter, thus this open confession: the story of a Ghanaian who has fallen madly in love with Luis Suarez.
With little shame and remorse, though, I can say I have almost completely healed and moved on from that Suarez-induced disappointment of July 2010.