Crossing the Line

“It’s not that I want to win; it’s that I need to win.” – Luis Suárez

Let me admit that I am not a huge fan of autobiographies. I believe a good chunk of this literary genre brims with narrative fallacies and serves the sole purpose of heightening their authors’ sense of self-aggrandizement. Nonetheless, when I heard of Luis Suárez’s autobiography, I just could not stop myself from getting my hands on it. Widely regarded as one of the best strikers in the world, Suárez’s reputation precedes him and he owes his prominence as much to his superb footballing skills as his on-field transgressions.

Controversies always hound Suárez in one form or the other. A magician with the ball at his feet, Suárez has time and again failed to keep a check on his darker instincts. His time in the English Premier League made for some of the frothiest headlines and provided a lot of fodder to the armchair critics and media blowhards who jumped at the first opportunity to cut him to bits. While he scored a bucketload of goals all over England during his three-and-a-half years reign at Liverpool FC, his tenure was marked by serious allegations of racism and biting – the first of which he denies to this day.  His alleged misdemeanors in England made him British media’s favorite punching bag. In ‘Crossing the Line’, Suárez sets the record straight and bares his soul on a lot of things, most importantly, on the allegations that left him stigmatized. Apparently, Suárez gets able assistance from two Madrid-based journalists  – Sid Lowe and Peter Jenson – in his enterprise.

“When a thing ceases to be a subject of controversy, it ceases to be a subject of interest.” – William Hazlitt’s quote aptly describes Suárez and his relationship with the press.

‘Crossing the Line’ kicks off with Suárez’s honest admission of his past follies and his candid realization in the wake of Chiellini bite that he needed a qualified help to overcome his passion-induced-on-field-infringements. However, since Suárez is Suárez, at no point does he seem to grovel to the reader for apologies. Yes, he does feel repentant for his actions, but then, football pundits may not take kindly to some of the implausible arguments he puts across to justify his actions. Take for instance his assertion: “I know biting appalls a lot of people, but it’s relatively harmless”. Statements such as these provide ample ammunition to his critics for whom Suárez doubles as an epitome of evildoing.

Suárez ‘s cheeky justification of his blatant handball that cost Ghana a place in the 2010 world cup semis raises a lot of eyebrows, too. While he regrets his handball, Suárez contends that his actions were purely instinctual. And he does put forth a less-than-palatable theory to substantiate his defense, citing his goalkeeping credentials from his childhood club. He claims, “If I hadn’t been a striker, I would have been a goalkeeper.” What had me in splits was the part where Suárez reveals that he actually tried to make his Uruguayan mate Jorge Fucile the scapegoat by pointing to the referee that it was Fucile who had handled the ball, not him. Inimitable Suárez, no?

MannatechWhile Suárez stops at nothing in his praise of the two Liverpool idols – Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard, what could surprise many Liverpool faithful is his unbridled appreciation of Glen Johnson, the Liverpool right-back. “He has a combination of physical strength, power and intelligence that I don’t think people in England really appreciate,” says Suarez of his ex-mate. Not sure many would have expected to read something like that about Glen who often gets mocked by his own fans for being slow and inactive on the pitch.

“You have to be mentally tough. Talent is never enough.”

Even the most ardent of his detractors would acknowledge Suárez’s  indisputable commitment to the game. Never the one to down tools, never the one to back down, Suárez is always ‘in’ the game no matter how large the odds stacked up against him. Nothing exemplifies Suárez’s mental fortitude than his single-handed devastation of England in the 2014 world cup even as he was recuperating from a crucial knee surgery. His account of the excruciating physical and mental agony in the run-up to the world cup and the resulting mini-triumph makes it the best part of the book. He describes this fierce competitiveness as his second nature, something he just cannot switch off. “I’m the player who will kill himself just to prevent a throw-in in the ninetieth minute,” declares El-Pistolero.

“You can call me ‘bigmouth’, ‘biter’, ‘diver’. There is proof. But to call me a racist – that hurts a lot. It’s a serious accusation.”

I was champing at the bit to get the lowdown on Suárez’s version of his infamous run-in with then Manchester United player Patrice Evra. In a chapter titled ‘Racist’, Suárez tells his side of the incident that according to him tarnished his reputation for good. He affirms that the whole argument took place in Spanish not English as many were led to believe and thus the word ‘Negro’ (pronounced neh-gro in Spanish meaning black), was uttered in a different context wherein it doesn’t imply rejection or discrimination. He maintains that he was oblivious to the negative connotations of the N-word in English.

The issue with Suárez’s version is that it has come too late, and it seems littered with inconsistencies. For instance, Suárez, on the record, had apologized to Evra for not shaking his hand in a pre-match custom in the wake of the latter’s allegations. In his book, however, Suárez strikes a different note. He explains to the reader how Evra had masterfully led him into the booby trap and made him the fall guy. So far, so good. But it is his thinly-veiled reference to Sir Alex Ferguson for masterminding the whole Patrice Evra affair that may throw many for a loop. Again, Suarez could be spot on with his allegations, but his side of the story won’t attract many takers. In all fairness, Suárez himself hasn’t helped his cause either. His growing list of transgressions, even after the Evra incident, certainly didn’t make him irreproachable. Unless Suárez actually puts his money where his mouth is, his explanations might only come across as feeble recriminations and his critics might still not let him off the hook and he might never be vindicated.

“When I retire, I think I would like to get away from it… I’d rather be with my family.” Suarez’s reveals that once he hangs his boots, it will be for good. He won’t return to the game in any role. Contrary to his public perception, Suarez’s shenanigans stay only on the football pitch. A thorough gentleman off the pitch, Suarez’s disillusionment apparently stems from all the hustle and bustle that surrounds the game. Sadly, what he does beyond the pitch doesn’t interest any of his critics. For them, he will always be a troublemaker, a controversy magnet. For his fans and a minor section of football purists, however, Suarez will remain a football genius with a touch of madness.

Finally, ‘Crossing the Line’ is a must read for all Luis Suárez fans. Embellished with the ingredients of a fairy-tale love affair and a rags-to-riches story in addition to the author’s football journey, ‘Crossing the Line’ both inspires and amuses without getting into conceited mood, thanks in large part to its unpretentious author.