It only took six days for Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez to go from tooth to truth. Or did he?
“Independent from the fallout and the contradicting declarations that have surfaced during these past days, all of which have been without the intention of interfering with the good performance of my national team,” said Suarez in a statement that was released on Monday from Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital, “the truth is that my colleague Giorgio Chiellini suffered the physical result of a bite in the collision he suffered with me.”
Last Thursday, two days after the incident took place in the 78th minute of the match between Italy and Uruguay, FIFA meted out its punishment to Suarez. The 27-year-old was banned for nine international matches—that sentence began on Saturday, when La Celeste was bounced from the World Cup in a 2–0 loss to Colombia in the Round of 16. In addition, Suarez was banned from all football-related activity for a period of four months.
Suarez posted the statement on his Facebook page and added three items afterward in bullet points: 1) “I deeply regret what occurred,” 2) “I apologize to Giorgio Chiellini and the entire football family,” and 3) “I vow to the public that there will never again be another incident like [sic].”
The Uruguayan star’s statement was worded as carefully as Iran’s defense against Argentina was earlier in the World Cup. Legal minds will note the parsing of phrases and dearth of transitive verbs. Nowhere in the statement does Suarez explicitly state that he bit Chiellini, nor does he confess to lying to FIFA in his statement to their investigative review board.
Here is what Suarez told FIFA on June 25, one day after the incident: “In no way it happened how you have described, as a bite or intent to bite. After the impact.… I lost my balance, making my body unstable and falling on top of my opponent. At that moment I hit my face against the player leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth.”
Whether Suarez’s original explanation was the product of delusional memory or a desperate attempt to remain eligible for playing for the World Cup, video evidence emphatically disputed his version of events. Hence the punishment.
While Monday’s statement is both penitent (“I apologize”) and to a degree an admission of culpability (“I deeply regret what occurred”), nowhere does Suarez claim intent. The key sentence repeats the word “suffered” twice and may be construed as, per the verbiage, an accident during which the Italian defender just happened to be bitten. Again, the footage appears to show Suarez inciting the “collision” and then lowering his head with intent to bite Chiellini.
The fact that Suarez has twice before bitten opposing players on the pitch—and received punishments for doing so—diminishes claims by Suarez or any of his advocates that this was accidental. Suarez never explicitly states in his statement that the bite was accidental; then again, he never explicitly states that it was not, either.
At the moment that Suarez’s incisors found Chiellini’s left shoulder, the score was tied, 0-0, which meant that Italy would advance to the knockout round and Uruguay would not. Three minutes later Uruguay scored off a corner kick to take a 1–0 lead. That score held and Uruguay advanced beyond the group stage while Italy did not.
Besides the nine-game international match ban, FIFA has prohibited Suarez from all “football-related activity” for the next four months. That means that the reigning Barclays Premier League Footballer of the Year will miss 13 matches with his Liverpool club at the start of next season. Last year Suarez missed Liverpool’s first five matches, also for serving a bite-related ban, and still scored 31 goals in 33 appearances. Only one player in all of the BPL scored even half as many goals as Suarez did, and that was teammate Daniel Sturridge (21), whose England side lost to Uruguay 2–0 at the World Cup on June 20—Suarez scored both goals that day.
That’s partly what makes Suarez so compelling. Before he gained worldwide infamy as the Hannibal Lecter of the World Cup, football fans already knew him to be one of the three or four best players in the world.
Chiellini, who has stated that he feels Suarez’s punishment is too severe, was magnanimous in the wake of Suarez’s proclamation on Monday. “It’s all forgotten,” Chiellini tweeted. “I hope FIFA will reduce your suspension.”