Osasu Obayiuwana: What is talent without character?

After watching this pint-sized Uruguayan, on a bitterly cold winter’s night, at Johannesburg’s Soccer City, blatantly cheat his way to the 2010 World Cup semi-final, in front of nearly 90,000 witnesses, as well as have the temerity to subsequently gloat about his act of theft, I have found it very hard to have any regard for Luis Suarez.

And so do many people around the African continent, especially folks that come from Ghana.

I got into a wee bit of trouble, a while ago, when I made my dislike of Suarez public, whilst carrying out my punditry work for SuperSport, the pan-African sports channel.

I was told, by the ‘folks upstairs’, that I was ‘not allowed’ to make such statements, even though my position was not based on having any personal axe to grind.

My intense dislike has everything to do with Suarez’s diary of infamy, which he extended last week.

As if his racist abuse of Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, and the global furore from that, was not enough to blight his Premiership career, Suarez just couldn’t help himself but end his season with a dramatic flourish.

That chomp, on the arm of Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic last Sunday, which resulted in his 10-game ban on Tuesday, ensures the Uruguayan’s character – or the lack of it – will remain a topic of global conversation.

After a previous eight-game ban, and a £40,000 fine, for the Evra incident, Suarez can be officially crowned as the undisputed ‘bad boy’ of the English Premier League. An 18-game ban, acquired over two seasons, is no mean feat.

Considering it’s the second time that Suarez will be ‘feasting’ on his opponent – the first incident taking place whilst he was at Ajax Amsterdam, which effectively ended his career there, this latest act of perfidy brings, to the fore, the $64,000 question – should talent on the football pitch cover a multitude of sins?

It appears that Jamie Carragher, his Liverpool colleague, thinks it could.

“If someone is exceptional at what they do, many people are prepared to put up with them, regardless of the hassle they may cause,” he admitted, in a recent piece in the London Daily Mail.

“People may say this is a Liverpool-biased opinion but I don’t want to see another world-class player leave the Barclays Premier League…We are talking about one of the top five players in world football.”

Perhaps so, Jamie. But there are bigger ethical questions, other than narrow club needs, that have to be answered within the wider fraternity.

If Suarez had racially abused or physically assaulted a person in the course of doing an ‘everyday’ Joe Bloggs job, there is no question that he would be summarily sacked and would face criminal charges for assault.

So, why should it be any different, just because the offender has the ability to kick a ball pretty well?

If principles are consistently sacrificed on the altar of expedience – which, in Liverpool’s case, can be defined as the need to hold on to their best (and very expensive) player, in order to have a chance to effectively compete – what does that say about the moral state of football?

Club executives often shy away from assuming the high ground against their players, when the consequence of a stance, against ‘intolerable’ acts of indiscipline, involves the premature sale of an ‘difficult’ asset, well below market value.

Can you imagine any major football club in the world giving the heave-ho to a player they purchased, for tens of millions of dollars, for a pittance, just to make a moral point, especially if the recalcitrant chap happens to be their prime piece of talent, who does the business for them, week after week?

Most likely not. But that is what comes in a world that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

That football has come to this sorry point is very sad indeed.

Some people may feel that a 10-game ban is an appropriate punishment for Suarez’s act of perfidy. Not for me. It just does not go far enough.

The possession of sublime talent, which the Uruguayan clearly has, in spades, must never be used to excuse an act of barbarity. Football is clearly diminished by it.

Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him moc.l1634533136labto1634533136ofdlr1634533136owedi1634533136sni@a1634533136nawui1634533136yabo.1634533136usaso1634533136ta1634533136