Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl says Liverpool FC have handled Suarez saga very badly
Luis Suarez's refusal to shake hands with Patrice Evra gained headlines around the world
Wahl says Liverpool PR statement following Suarez ban in December was one of the worst he's seen
The apologies issued by Luis Suarez and Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish on Sunday are a sign that the English club’s American owners are finally stepping in to sort out a situation that has festered for too long, says a leading U.S. sports writer.
“This story got attention in the media in the U.S. – The New York Times, The Boston Globe. These are papers (John Henry, Liverpool’s principal owner) reads,” Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl told CNN’s World Sport.
The controversy started when Liverpool striker Suarez refused to shake hands with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra before the start of an English Premier League match on Saturday.
Suarez, a Uruguay international, was widely criticized for the snub. It came as they met face to face for the first time since he was given an eight-game ban for racial taunts directed at the Frenchman at an earlier fixture between the two clubs in October.
United manager Alex Ferguson called Suarez a “disgrace” while Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre was angered by his own player’s actions.
Henry – co-founder of Fenway Sports Group, which also owns baseball’s Boston Red Sox – hasn’t said anything publicly yet. However, Wahl said the Sunday apologies were a result of the owners’ intervention.
The Merseyside club denied suggestions on Monday that the statements were prompted by the club’s shirt sponsors Standard Chartered.
Wahl remains surprised at how Liverpool have handled the affair from the outset.
“When we saw the lengthy suspension issued to Luis Suarez, the PR department from Liverpool issued one of the worst PR statements I’ve ever seen,” Wahl said.
Released in December last year, after the English Football Association handed down its eight-match ban and a £40,000 ($62,000) fine on Suarez, the Merseyside club said it was “very surprised and disappointed” with the decision.
“I think that gave Luis Suarez the feeling that he was in the right in this situation and that continued up into what we saw last weekend,” Wahl said.
He believes Liverpool should have just accepted the penalty and moved on.
“I’m surprised that the ownership group of Liverpool, which is well-versed in American sports, let this go on this long,” Wahl said.
“My feeling is that maybe that’s connected to the relationship between the previous American owners at Liverpool and the fans and club, and maybe not wanting to be seen as meddling,” he said.
“But they should have meddled along time ago and start putting things in the right direction. This took far too long to happen.”
Henry is scheduled to attend the final of the English League Cup when Liverpool take on second division Cardiff at Wembley Stadium on February 26, but some media reports have speculated that he will perhaps fly over earlier.
Whether or not this turns out to be true, Wahl said Henry and the ownership group have always made one thing clear.
“Liverpool needs to be making its news on the field by winning and not with this other stuff.”