Date: 8th January 2013 at 9:59am
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Reds striker Luis Suarez has again courted controversy following the weekend cup win over Mansfield Town and we’ve decided to take a closer look at the incident…

There is no doubting those reading this will probably need little or no overview of the incident in question such has been the intense scrutiny that has followed.

And there is also no doubting Luis Suarez’s handball, which led to a decisive second goal for the Premier League giants, was a key moment in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over non-league Mansfield Town. A moment that effectively eliminated the plucky Stags from this season’s FA Cup.

But was Luis Suarez‘s handball in the build-up to his 19th strike of the season malicious, accidental or purely a natural and instantaneous reaction?

Regardless of this, was he right not to openly admit the offence to the officials upon seeing the goal was allowed to stand?

Unsurprisingly in the immediate aftermath of the game a number of his teammates plus Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers were quick to back their star man.

Perhaps more tellingly, so was Rodgers’ opposite number Paul Cox who deserves great credit in the way he conducted himself in the heat of the moment.

When asked in front of a worldwide TV audience merely minutes after the final whistle for his gut feeling, the 41-year-old replied: “I don’t think Suarez did anything wrong, it was instinctive.”

Like his manager, Mansfield goalkeeper Alan Marriott stopped well short of castigating the Uruguayan striker.

“It’s football. I don’t think you can call him a cheat,” said Marriott.

“I know a lot of people have in the past. I was asking the linesman and he was on his toes to the halfway line. If anyone was going to see it, it was him with the hand which Suarez used.

“Just before it goes over the line, he volleyed it and he had a smile on his face. I think everyone knows that you wait for the referee to blow. But on this occasion, the officials have missed it.”

Former ref Graham Poll has been quick to point out that within the rules of the game handball has to be deliberate to be penalised and therefore seemingly the officials either felt it was accidental or their views were obscured.

On the matter, Kop boss Rodgers revealed: “Straight away I said to the fourth official: ‘Was that handball?’ He said it was but it wasn’t deliberate. Andre [Marriner, referee] didn’t deem it deliberate. It’s unfortunate for Mansfield because it ends up being the winning goal.”

One person less measured in his reaction was ESPN commentator Jon Champion who during the channel’s live broadcast labelled Suarez a ‘cheat’ seconds after the ball hit the back of the net.

The established and popular Champion was quickly rebuked by his employers who subsequently released a statement saying: “Our policy is for commentators to be unbiased and honest. Inevitably this can involve treading a fine line on occasion and we have spoken to our commentator about this incident.”

With a replay being worth in excess of £500k to the struggling Blue Square Bet Premier outfit it is easy to have sympathy for them and criticism from those connected to Mansfield is understandable.

As the club’s chief executive Carolyn Radford put it: “It feels a bit like the result was stolen from us. Whether it was deliberate or not, it should be sorted out. It is very unfortunate that the referees and officials can’t pick up these things. We should be a least having a replay. Handballs are obviously de rigueur.”

Mansfield’s owner John Radford went a step further yesterday by deeming the incident an embarrassment and criticising Suarez for celebrating once he realised the goal was going to stand.

“I would have been absolutely embarrassed had it been one of our players,” claimed the millionaire who is also the side’s chairman.

“I’d have been embarrassed and the man should be embarrassed. Referees have a hard time but to do it deliberately then celebrate is the hardest thing.

“To cheat, maybe that’s OK in sport. But to cheat and then celebrate cheating, that is the worst thing you can do.”

A number of players and managers not directly involved in the game have also passed comment and in the main the majority revealed they would have done the same in Suarez’s situation.

One time Liverpool, Manchester City and Leeds United forward Robbie Fowler has been particularly vociferous in his support of the player.

“Seriously, Suarez did nothing wrong, and I’m amazed at the reaction. I honestly don’t even believe he handled deliberately,” Fowler told the Liverpool ECHO.

“The ball is smashed right at his hand from very close range, and he’d need some reactions to have calculated that one.

“You can see by the way his arm bounces above his shoulder after the ball hits him that he isn’t braced for it. That tells you something.

“I think the way he then knocked the ball in the net he assumed it would be ruled out, but if there’s any criticism, it should be at the referee, not the player.”

Norwich striker Grant Holt tweeted: “Don’t care what you say I would not tell the ref if I handled it neither should of Suarez. Ref fault missed it.”

Former Premier League player Darren Huckerby also used social media site Twitter to express his views, saying: “I know #Suarez isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but battering him for the hand ball is ridiculous, 99% players would do the same!”

Meanwhile Ex-Scotland international Gordan Strachan went for a more light-hearted approach when summing up the situation using a parking analogy.

“If you park on a double yellow line and get away with it, you don’t phone up the council & say you owe £85,” quipped the former Southampton and Coventry City manager.

Vital Verdict
Without wishing to open up a separate debate on video replays or extra officials behind the goals, and merely judging the incident in isolation, it is pretty staggering how out of proportion the event has been blown. It is noticeable that the majority of people best placed to past judgement (namely those involved in the match or in football in general) understand the situation to be part and parcel of the game. Of course a number of fans of other clubs have expressed their distain but I doubt they would be so outspoken if the same thing happened for their team.

No matter what country you are from, or what level you play at, the first thing any player is taught is to play to the whistle. If the officials do not see an incident that is not the problem of the offending player. Every single game will have wrong decisions, whether it be a foul not given, an off-side decision wrongly called or in this case a handball missed, and examples of a player arguing against a beneficial decision are few and far between. When it happens, as in the case of Paulo Di Canio or more recently Miroslav Klose, it should be celebrated but those acts of sporting goodwill are very few and far between. In the modern game with its glamour, global appeal and money, the pressure to seek and gleefully accept any advantage is intense. Indeed if Suarez had tried to get the goal chalked off he would have felt the wrath of his unhappy teammates and manager.

I have the upmost sympathy for Mansfield, who played one hell of a game, and for Suarez to again take all the attention is in some ways disrespectful to the effort they put in. However, I cannot help but think if it was any other player the matter would not have been anywhere near as scrutinised. Sadly it has given his many detractors another brush with which to tarnish one of the world’s most gifted talents. Personally, even as a Liverpool fan, I find a lot of his antics annoying and in the past I have been very critical of some of his actions but in this instance I feel a great deal of sympathy for the player. Timing wise the handball is also unfortunate as it comes when many independent observers were finally beginning to see the bigger picture and previous misdemeanours were starting to be replaced by memories of amazing goals and dribbles of technical brilliance. As a Reds supporter I can only hope Suarez will continue to be unaffected by all the negative publicity and he stays at the club for many years to come.

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