An interesting line in outrage and counter-outrage across the press today regarding Luis Suarez's latest attempts to alienate every non-Liverpool fan in the country. But it seems to me that there is a point being missed on both sides of the argument, at least as I have seen it put forward. Firstly, there are the ex players and current players, the Liverpool fans, Brendan Rogers himself and, to be fair, many more, who trot out the age old defence of the pragmatist; that Suarez is a striker, and therefore a mere slave to his instincts; that it is the referee's job, and his alone, to uphold the laws of the game; that it was (most laughable of all) pure accident that the ball hit his hand... and so on. So far, so Monday-morning-reading-the-sports-pages.
But the opposite side, it strikes me, have missed the real nub of why this actually matters. Of course, if it were anyone else, the apologists argue, we wouldn't have heard any more about it. And while that might be true enough, it is a facile and frankly inconsequential point. It wasn't anyone else that did it. It was Suarez... a player, and more importantly (as we shall find out later, dear reader), a man, who has consistently cheated, dived, conned, argued, racially abused and niggled his way through a career that has nonetheless established him in the firing line of the press and football following masses due to its undeniable sporting merits. And here is exactly where the rub is. If we stop asking more of football and its cast of heroes, if we merely shrug our shoulders and continue the tacit acceptance that everything about the game is tawdry, that the players involved are cynical, materialistic, professional to the point of detached disloyalty, ego-maniacal and too stupid or unimaginative to maybe try and improve their own culture and habits, then we are destined to descend to that very low as participants ourselves. We as fans, or more accurately in the economic culture that we find ourselves in, as consumers, are the true stake holders in the game. In the culture of the game and in the spirit in which we want to see these people uphold the game.
This is a metaphor for the cynicism that blights our society. Low election turn-outs, no trust in our Government, in the banks, the media, the police. Our systems and institutions sit rotting in front of our eyes while the rats that have managed to salvage a crumb escape the sinking ship in all directions (Dubai, the Cayman Islands, Switzerland... Manchester City.)
But let's lose the righteous indignation. And let's up the humour and the intellect in the way we talk about football and about sport in general. But most importantly, let's demand the same high standards of everyone involved. Let's demand integrity in the players. And let's demand intelligence in the writers. And let's demand insight from the pundits. These are the people involved in making money out of the game. The game we all love. The game we want back, please.