For David Cameron, read Tony Blair. For biting an opponent, read pushing a referee. Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio believes Luis Suarez can, like him, find redemption, as Neil Cameron reports.
IF anyone knows what Luis Suarez is going through right now, it is Paolo Di Canio.
Flawed genius – check. Football’s biggest disgrace – check. Prime Minister taking time out from running the country to comment on an incident he probably didn’t see, to demand the culprit is thrown into a Victorian jail – check.
Suarez is actually 15 years behind the Sunderland manager. A ten-match ban is just so 1998.
“He didn’t beat me. My ban was 11 games,” said Di Canio yesterday as he addressed the issue that has dominated every headline for the past six days. Before adding that he was joking, which he was. For the most part.
There can’t be any football fan who doesn’t remember the day in 1998 when, as a Sheffield Wednesday player, Di Canio sent referee Paul Alcock tumbling to the floor.
It remains one of the funniest things to ever happen in our game. Most disgraceful, I mean, most disgraceful.
Di Canio didn’t pretend that his actions were anything other than stupid, but in a way it made him as a man and a player.
West Ham took a chance on him when he returned from his ban, and Di Canio became one of the best players in English football before he headed home to end his career with Lazio.
He believes Suarez can find redemption, as he did 15 years ago, and would hate to see Liverpool’s troubled superstar leave these shores for biting Branislav Ivanovic.
Di Canio said: “If you think about the two situations, mine was very bad and a stupid gesture, but it was not violent. It was a push, like a kid, but it was not a fair play gesture.
“This is difficult to judge because it is unusual.
“I can understand, even if I don’t excuse Zinedine Zidane, because if someone swears in your face talking about your wife and mamma, it is different and you can lose your temper.
“To see one player pull the arm of another to bite him looks strange. It can’t kill him, but it is something not really good to watch.
“I can’t give advice to Suarez because we are all different, from different cultures, some from different countries and different character. It is his second time and he got a seven-game ban last time. It’s ten now, so he is missing many matches.
“He doesn’t help himself in this way. So I hope if he stays in England, he understands you can’t bite the arms of the people.
“You can’t be a cannibal. You can kick under pressure or when your body is close you kick or stamp the sole into the legs. It is not fair, but it can happen. But biting is something strange.”
Had Di Canio left when he was persona non grata, the Premier League would have missed out on someone who, in his own words, was a “fantasy footballer.”
Sunderland manager’s hopes that Suarez learns his lesson and remains in England, just as he did.
Di Canio said: “Players like him and Carlos Tevez have fantastic skill and talent, so how can you be happy if they leave this country? We want this type of footballer and we want him to stay at the top.”
All joking aside, Suarez could do worse than pick up the phone and talk to Di Canio. And what about that day when Di Canio was shown a red card in a game against Arsenal at Hillsborough?
Go watch it on YouTube. Nigel Winterburn’s reaction on being squared up to by the Italian is brilliant.
Di Canio said: “(Martin) Keown came close to my face and gave elbow in my face.
“I lost my temper and the referee came to my face with the red card, so I was already angry and my reaction was stupid. However, you improve as a professional and more importantly as a man.
“For two or three months, Prime Minister Blair said we have to push the barbarian out from England. It was too much. I know the election was very close in this period, but it was too tough. You can swear it was an instinctive reaction when you push someone out of your face but, anyway, it was very bad. I was thinking you did something big this time in England ... ‘mamma mia, oh my God’.
“My agent in Italy two days later said: ‘I don’t think you can go back there’. He was searching for a club in Turkey.
“I still wanted to play in England because I wanted to show my quality. I made a mistake, yes, but I didn’t kill anybody. I thought 11 games was very heavy, but I had to accept my time and then show I was a normal person.
“After two weeks I had a Turkish club offering to double my money, but I said no chance.
“I wanted to go back to England, it is my football. This is my life, it is a place I love, the football I love and the environment and atmosphere. Also I want to prove you can make one mistake in your life, but it doesn’t mean you have to be banned from one nation.”