A couple of months ago Luis Suárez turned up in a television advert in Uruguay wearing a shirt and tie, sitting behind a desk in a branch of the Abitab bank, and demonstrating what it might be like for anyone working alongside him in a standard nine-to-five office job.
Suárez can be seen angrily remonstrating with a coffee machine. He kicks out at a lift when the light tells him it is occupied. There is an argument with a photocopier. Suárez juts out an elbow and knocks a colleague's keyboard off his desk. "In Abitab, we were looking for a figure who represented the whole of Uruguay," the voiceover explains. "And because of that, we hired Luis Suárez." Then Suárez chucks a screwed-up piece of paper at a workmate's head, hits his target and we see the familiar goal celebration, kissing the tattoo on the inside of his wrist.
If nothing else, it shows the striker is not lacking self-awareness and can send himself up in a way that has not really been seen before. Someone taps him on the shoulder and Suárez throws himself beneath his desk in pretend agony. It is a colleague's birthday and, naturally, Suárez pushes in to blow out the candles, followed by that look of plaintive innocence he usually reserves for referees or Football Association commissions. "There are parts of his attitude that could be polished up a little," a serious-looking lady in a dark suit points out. Which, funnily enough, is the polite version of what they were saying at Liverpool after he gnawed on Branislav Ivanovic's arm and then used just about every trick possible to try to manoeuvre a way out of Anfield.
He is back next . It is just over five months since that infamous bite and it is tempting to wonder whether all that time mulling over his 10-match ban, and everything that has followed, might usher in a new Suárez. Older, perhaps a little wiser. Maybe there will be a greater understanding that he cannot continue undermining his own brilliance at a club that has persistently, sometimes desperately, redrawn the line every time he has crossed it. Or maybe we should just fasten our seatbelts and understand that, at this stage of his professional life, second‑guessing Suárez and what he is capable of, both good and bad, is never going to be straightforward.
All that can be said for certain is that Suárez discovered over the summer that he cannot always get his own way and that it is a start, at least. Liverpool handled his attempts to engineer a transfer to Arsenal with impressive backbone given the pressure they came under and, even if they have been guilty of indulging him too much in the past, anyone who has grown weary of players getting ideas above themselves should appreciate the clear message that he could stamp his feet as many times as he liked and it still would not make a jot of difference.
There is a downside when it flies in the face of one of football's older rules that a club should never keep a player who is unhappy and potentially brings disruption. Yet it is still better than the alternative when that means selling your best player, without a replacement, on that player's say-so. Liverpool had the choice of looking weak or strong. They chose the right option and, ultimately, there is nothing to say Suárez has to stop scoring goals, just because if you strapped a polygraph to him and asked him if he would rather be playing somewhere else the needle might start picking up speed.
Just look at Liverpool's opponents in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday – what a jarring symmetry that Suárez's comeback should be at Old Trafford – and the paradox of Wayne Rooney scoring his 199th and 200th goals for Manchester United last Tuesday but reserving his best piece of swerve for when a television interviewer had the temerity to ask if he was "happy again". Rooney and United have come to resemble a couple in marriage counselling, still sharing the same oxygen, just not the old joys. But United had a similar issue with Cristiano Ronaldo in his final year in Manchester and, as a colleague wrote at the time, the marriage might be rocky but the sex is pretty good. It can be for Suárez and Liverpool, too. Even if the little so-and-so has been thinking of someone else.
Loyalty doesn't come into it unfortunately and, though it is probably futile to say this bearing in mind how easily some fans are brainwashed, let's hope a few more people are wise to him when there is the inevitable show of badge-petting or the first stage-managed interview declaring himself back in love with everything Liverpool. Suárez has already gone through all that stuff and it turned out he was taking everyone for a ride. One day he was planning to stay for the rest of his career, the next he was accusing Brendan Rodgers of breaking a year‑long agreement to let him go. One day he was blaming the newspapers, the next he was trying to move to one of the paparazzi capitals of the world. A pattern has emerged with Suárez even without going into that thick file of previous offences. It is difficult to trust a word he says.
He is, however, a phenomenal footballer and, going back to Rooney, that appears to be enough to get the majority of supporters back on side these days. When Ronaldo was stopped from leaving United in the summer of 2008 it was not until his 10th game the following season, after scoring both goals in a 2-0 win against West Ham, that Old Trafford started properly belting out his name again. Rooney, in stark contrast, has been welcomed back like a returning hero and Liverpool's supporters, we can safely assume, will be just as forgiving of their player.
The bottom line is that Suárez receives special dispensation because he has special gifts. He could easily have challenged Gareth Bale for the player-of-the-year awards last season if he had not been, well, such a twerp, and if he is in the mood to make up for lost time that makes him a particularly useful player to have around when Liverpool, barring their defeat to Southampton, have already shown they can have authentic aspirations of significant improvement this season.
Will we ever fully understand him? Probably not. For now, though, he is just probably desperate to get on the pitch again and rid himself of some pent-up frustration. Keep your head down, work hard and concentrate on your football. That was Rooney's mantra after Gabriel Clarke went all off-message last Tuesday (earning himself a thousand-yard stare from David Moyes in the process). It is good advice for Suárez. Though, of course, he tends to go by his own rules.
The right message, the wrong backers
The campaign for footballers to wear rainbow-coloured laces to help eradicate homophobia in the sport clearly has some merit but would feel an awfully lot more worthwhile if it did not also smack of another round of free publicity for one particular bookmaker (no free name-check here).
Maybe they have good intentions but it is easy to be dubious when taking into account some of their publicity stunts over the past few years and that the first many clubs knew about it was when the parcels arrived containing the laces.
This, remember, is the same bookmaker whose previous includes persuading Nicklas Bendtner to celebrate a goal in Euro 2012 by showing the company's name emblazoned across his boxer shorts, and who erected huge billboards outside Premier League grounds last season lampooning various players as part of a "Second Job for Subs" campaign.
At Stamford Bridge, the message for Fernando Torres was "it's in the burger van mate, get your hair-net on". At Arsenal, Andrey Arshavin was ordered to go to "Block D toilets, what's Russian for plunger?" Darren Bent was offered a job in the Aston Villa club shop, Peter Odemwingie was asked to drive the West Brom coach and José Bosingwa to help out at QPR as a steward. Moderately funny, if you like that sort of thing. Just not necessarily the right way to ingratiate yourself with the relevant people when you are about to team up with Stonewall, the gay‑rights charity, and drop a favour on everyone's toes.
Stonewall no doubt think there is an important message to put out there, and it would be right. Everton also appear to agree that the clubs boycotting it – including Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, West Ham, Norwich, Southampton and Sunderland – are wrong. Everton were the first club to back the campaign, with various press statements and accompanying photographs of Phil Jagielka holding up a rainbow-laced boot. Fair play, but you can understand the scepticism. Everton are an official partner of the bookmaker in question.
The pity here? It is a really good idea and, with a bit more planning and intelligence, could have involved every club. Maybe Stonewall will deal with the relevant people next time and leave the other lot out of it.
Off the wall: time for a Fayed statue?
Here's an idea. If Fulham don't want to upset Mohamed Al Fayed when they remove the Michael Jackson statue perhaps the new regime could replace it with one of the previous owner. OK, it wouldn't be to everyone's taste, yet again, but at least Fayed has an association with Craven Cottage, and am I alone in thinking he probably deserves more credit for his 16 years at the club?
When Fayed took over, in 1997, Fulham had just been promoted after three years of grubbing around for points in the old Fourth Division. They won two more promotions in the next four years and have been in the Premier League ever since, including their highest ever finish (seventh) and a Europa League final. A lot is said about poor football-club owners but, in Fayed's case, there does not seem to be a great deal of recognition for what he has done on this part of the Thames. It is just a surprise, if anything, he hadn't thought of the idea himself.
Lost in the Forest
A little update on the Nottingham Forest situation. If you recall, I wrote last weekthat the Observer and the Guardian have been banned from the City Ground press box and our suspicions that the club's general manager, Jim Price (Billy Davies's cousin and adviser), was ticking off names in a little black book of journalists who knew too much about what had happened in Davies's first spell in charge.
Forest have stated that it is because, on 9 March, I attended their home match against Wolves and did not write a match report. Their official Twitter account said on Tuesday it was "a breach" of Dataco regulations. Which is interesting. Dataco, the Football League and the Premier League have all subsequently confirmed this is completely untrue. You would have thought Forest might have known we would check. Maybe they can come clean now and tell us the real reason.