Yes, Jose Mujica was whining, but he was also making the case for a more physical game.
Photo: Gregorio Marrero / LatinContent / Getty Images
President of Uruguay Jose Mujica, the chrysanthemum-farming populist famous for giving away his salary and driving himself around in an ancient VW Beetle, showed his support for soccer striker Luis Suarez over the weekend, calling FIFA’s decision to ban Suarez from four months of play "fascist." Mujica said he didn’t object to Suarez being penalized, but considered the punishment unequal to the crime. Rather than arguing that Suarez didn't bite Giorgio Chiellini - "I hit my face against the player," as the Liverpool star put it - Mujica pointed out that soccer is, by its very nature, a rough game. El Presidente likes streetball.
“I remember when they used pins and threw dirt in your eyes during corners,” said the 79-year-old political leader, before adding that the men in charge of international soccer's governing body have "no idea of the joy [players] give us when they play in the dirt!"
The former revolutionary pointed out that it shouldn't be surprising that Suarez, who came up playing hardscrabble games in favelas around Montevideo, plays a rougher game than Italy's stars. Given that many of the players on European teams trained for years in specialty programs designed to create agile, contact-averse players, the point is well taken. So far, flops have played a larger role in the World Cup than confrontational plays - Arjen Robben's dramatic spill led to a come-from-behind Netherlands victory over Mexico on Sunday. If tussling in the box is part of the game (and old-school fans the world over would argue that it is), then Suarez isn't guilty of gross misconduct, but of taking misconduct too far. Mujica, who met with Suarez when the star returned home after being ejected from the tournament, sees the goal-scorer as a hero: one of the toughest guys playing a tough game.
All that said, speaking up on behalf of Luis Suarez was probably a waste of Mujica’s breath. No one likes a biter, and the Liverpool star’s outrageous behavior has alienated many a fan. Suarez is a terrible posterboy for physical soccer, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with a more physical game.