The Premier League is no stranger to controversy, over the years we have had plenty of heroes and villains as well as unsavoury situations both on and off the pitch, but what has happened at Liverpool over the Suarez incident is one episode that could top the lot. The drama reached its crescendo on Saturday as it climaxed in the ultimate show of disrespect from the convicted Luis Suarez as he refused to shake the hand of his victim Patrice Evra as Manchester United and Liverpool met in a fiery encounter at Old Trafford.
To make things worse, an unlikely villain in all of this, Kenny Dalglish, gave a poor post match interview in which he showed a total lack of respect and understanding of the situation in the face of some forward questioning from Sky Sports reporter Geoff Shreeves. The club finally reacted to both incidents and apologetic statements were issued. Now all is said and done, we can look back on this debacle as whole and see what it has meant to Liverpool Football Club.
You can try to rationalise and justify any situation, in the case of Suarez I have seen, watched and heard many people do it – a majority of whom were Liverpool fans. Typical arguments were the cultural significance of the comments Suarez made, that Evra abused Suarez first, the list goes on. Such defence of a clubs star player is expected, I mean Suarez was innocent until proven guilty and fans had every right to defend the player initially, as did the manager and the club. The ins and outs of the Suarez/Evra case do not concern me, Suarez was found guilty, Liverpool did not appeal the decision and therefore accepted the verdict as correct, it is Liverpool’s etiquette and conduct throughout that has been alarming.
Kenny Dalglish is a figurehead at Liverpool, a living legend and relic of past glories, because of this he is keen to rule the roost at Liverpool in a seemingly Fergie-esque way. Dalglish has had perhaps too much influence at Liverpool over the past few months. The men behind the scenes gave King Kenny free reign to express his thoughts and opinions, which retrospectively was a huge mistake, but could anyone stand up to such a club legend? The directors at Liverpool failed to control Dalglish early on and he was lost in the Suarez situation as it intensified.
Both Dalglish’s and Suarez’s seemingly unaided free speech was only bought under control after the weekend’s controversy as Suarez and Evra met again for the first time. Suarez not shaking the hand of Evra and Kenny Dalglish’s post match TV interview were the final straw for Liverpool as a business, they could no longer allow their products to damage their brands image further as the clubs management took some power back.
Liverpool, as a football team, has a worldwide reach and influence, the club have ploughed in millions of pounds to expand brand Liverpool globally and it is a work in progress. It is difficult to determine the impact of the Suarez case outside the UK, however Sunday’s incident will have been seen by a worldwide audience and therefore it is no surprise action from the directors at Liverpool was swiftly taken.
Liverpool have a culturally diverse fan base; every week you will see many supporters of different ethnic origins amongst the crowd at Anfield, it is the way it has been at Anfield for years. Worldwide, Liverpool are competing against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham in recruiting supporters on a global basis and are ambassadors for the Premier League. The lack of on pitch success since the departure of Benitez only makes the recruitment drive harder; an incident around the issue of racism does little to help Liverpool’s global reputation. Liverpool, as a business, needs to thrive off the pitch to give the club to best opportunity of having success on it or they risk getting left behind.
In particular the actions of Suarez and Dalglish do not only have the potential to affect the club’s fan base and reputation, they are viewed dimly by the clubs commercial partners. Club sponsors Standard Chartered have publicly expressed their concerns over the weekend’s incidents. The clubs partners are vital sources of income when it comes to Liverpool’s business model, commercial partners want to associate with other companies/brands that have similar values and principles and will pay top dollar to be partners with the biggest and best clubs who reciprocate their brand values.
I am not saying that Liverpool should have encouraged Suarez to shake Evra’s hand for any reason, especially commerical ones, if he truly didn’t believe in doing so. The club’s media and PR teams should have taken better control of the situation in the early stages and so they could have had more control and in the interests of the bigger picture, further negativity towards the club could have been avoided. Kenny Dalglish said the situation was exaggerated because of the influence of media outlets such as Sky Sports News giving the story constant coverage. Dalglish is right to a certain extent, everything was blown out of proportion and glamourised to make a good story, but this shouldn’t be a surprise in this day and age. As well as Dalglish sending out a quite public ‘f*** you’ to Sky during his weekend interview (an organisation that supports Liverpool financially) creating more news, Dalglish and his team have constantly given Sky more ammo to fuel their coverage of the Suarez case further; the t-shirts defending Suarez are just one example of this.
The damage to Liverpool’s reputation and brand image globally is yet unknown, but the clubs ethics and integrity have been stained over the clubs inability to control the Suarez situation. For Liverpool it is now a case of damage limitation as their PR team finally starts to get control of the situation. The club need to shake the racism tag it has picked up over the last few months after incidents both on the pitch and in the stands from a minority.
This whole situation is one Liverpool will want to wash their hands off, there is no doubt Suarez’s statement is a standard response from the club’s press officer in the wake of a ticking off, rather than a heartfelt and sincere apology – just further damage limitation, with Suarez taking the rap and deflecting attention from the club. However this situation is played down by those at Liverpool, this is a big issue and will be highlighted further after the government decided to get involved. We must remember football is fickle game, everyone will move on, but you can guarantee that when you look back at this season it is the Suarez/Evra case and racism that will set the back drop to what has been a great football season as some stains take a long time to fade and be washed away altogether.