If you’ve been feeling like there’s something missing from football gossip pages, that might be the lack of controversy surrounding Luis Suárez of late. That particular corner of the universe, it seems, may have restored some balance.
The Spanish football federation has handed Suárez a two game ban after getting into a post-match altercation with opponents.
The incident happened in the tunnel following Barcelona’s 4-1 win over Espanyol in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday. The match, usually a heated fixture befitting a cross-town rivalry, took on extra tensions after Espanyol fans were accused of racially abusing Neymar during their league fixture last weekend. (The league has since condemned the chants from Espanyol fans, saying they incited “... violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sports.”) The visitors accumulated eight yellow cards and two red cards, and possibly could have been three after Espanyol goalkeeper Pau López was accused of stamping on Leo Messi.
One of the players sent off, Senegal international Papakouly Diop, got in Suárez’s face while still on the pitch and reportedly said, “I s*** in your whore mother.” Whether it was that confrontation by itself or the last straw at the end of a particularly tense evening, Suárez apparently wasn’t prepared to let it go after the game was over.
Referee Juan Martínez Munuera included this passage in his official report: “At the end of the game, once in the tunnel, Barça’s No9 Suárez, while the Espanyol players were coming up the stairs, waited for them and shouted at them on various occasions. He said: ‘I’m waiting for you, come here! You’re a waste of space’. It provoked a confrontation between players of both clubs and the security guards had to get involved, as did coaches of both teams.”
Barcelona dismissed the incident at the time, with manager Luis Enrique downplaying the confrontation as “Christmas carols,” presumably in reference to the game being held on Epiphany.
“It isn’t down to the coaches or the players to keep the peace. It’s down to the referees to ensure we play football and not American football. There was some tension. I’d like it if there were more football, fewer interruptions and no injuries. When someone oversteps the mark, it’s down to the referees to keep order. Of course there’s tension in these games. The players know each other, they’re two teams with a special rivalry but that rivalry has to remain positive.”
The ban applies only to Copa del Rey matches, meaning that Suárez will miss the return leg next week and the first leg of the quarterfinals should Barcelona go through. The club plan to appeal the decision.
Diop later told Spanish media that Suárez should’ve been sent off as well. “We both insulted each other. He said swear words to me, and me to him, and I get sent off. The referee told me he didn’t hear us both, only me. [The media] have spent all week saying we are violent and this has had its effect. [Barcelona] are really good and if you cannot even touch them, they can do what they want. You cannot say we were violent. There wasn’t any blood – if we had wanted to, the Barça players would have gone off on stretchers.”