The Bite: Luis Suárez’s Release Valve

By Samantha Shapiro

“The adrenaline levels in a game can be so high; the pulse is racing and sometimes the brain doesn’t keep up. The pressure mounts and there is no release valve.[1] – Luis Suárez, Crossing the Line: My Story

The 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was quite a stage. It was a stage in one of the most football-obsessed countries on the planet. It was a stage that juxtaposed social worlds, highlighting the stadiums representing the greed of FIFA against the backdrop of utter poverty in Brazil. It was the stage on which Germany would beat Argentina 1-0 to take home the World Cup.

Amongst the excitement and chaos rippling through Brazil and the rest of the world, it was also a stage on June 24th for Luis Suárez to bite Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder in the 79th minute as Uruguay took on Italy. According to The Guardian, “The Liverpool striker leaned his forehead into Chiellini, in what looked, initially, to be a butt before biting down on his opponent’s shoulder. Suárez flung himself to the ground and, moments later, he could be seen holding his teeth.”[2]

               Source: YouTube, “Luis Suarez bites Chiellini,” June 24, 2014.

This would not be the first time that Suárez, a 27 year old striker from Uruguay who played for Liverpool, turned to biting as his self-proclaimed “release valve.” In fact, it was the third. In 2010, as a member of Ajax, he bit PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal and was suspended for seven games; three years later, in 2013, he had arrived at Liverpool and bit Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic during a Premier League match, only this time to be banned for ten games.[3] But here, on this epic stage in Rio in 2014, Suárez was not only banned for nine international matches (and hence the rest of the World Cup) and fined 100,000 Swiss Francs, but was also forbidden from stepping foot inside any football stadium in the world throughout the duration of his punishment.[4]

All this because of a call that was never actually called.

Referee Marco “Dracula” Rodríguez did not see the action clearly, and therefore did not even make a call, despite Chiellini’s angry reaction of pulling his jersey down to show the resulting bite mark.[5] Chiellini argued that “the referee saw the bite mark, too, but he did nothing about it.”[6] It was FIFA that ended up calling for a further inspection of the play: an act that many, including Suárez, saw as a ridiculous overstepping of power. Suárez insisted that he “had contact with [Chiellini’s] shoulder, chest against shoulder and I got a knock to the eye—nothing more”[7] and was shocked that “FIFA’s power actually went that far.”[8] Uruguayan captain Diego Lugano jumped to Suárez’s defense, “accusing Chiellini of being a cry baby” and insisting that “the apparent bite mark on the Italian’s shoulder was an existing scar”[9]; Óscar Tabárez, Uruguay’s manager, blamed the backlash on the media’s tendency to unfairly target Suárez.[10] Despite the difference in opinion about how the incident unfolded and was dealt with thereafter, chairman of FIFA’s disciplinary committee Claudio Sulser maintained that “such behavior cannot be tolerated on any football pitch and, in particular, not on a FIFA World Cup when the eyes of millions of people are on the stars on the field.”[11] Defender Mark Larenson, Suárez’s teammate on Liverpool, echoed this sentiment, lamenting Suárez’s place as a celebrity and, therefore, a role model: “Say my boy was about 11 or 12, how do you explain to your lad who’s a football fan exactly what Luis Suárez keeps doing?”[12]

For what it is worth, Suárez certainly does not look back on the incident fondly. He is not proud of his lack of self-control. However, he maintains that the same evils that come over him and cause him to lash out come with the territory of his athletic genius; while he does want to control his violent tendencies, he does not want his “unconscious” style of play to vanish completely: “The problem is that switching off also happens when I do something brilliant on the pitch and, of course, I don’t want to lose that. I’ve scored goals and later struggled to understand how exactly I managed to score them. There is something about the way I play that is unconscious, for better or worse.”[13] Time will tell if Suárez can strike a healthy balance between what makes him great and what has caused his professional demise, albeit temporary, for the third time.

Also, for what it is worth, on that fateful night at the World Cup in Rio in 2014, Uruguay defeated Italy 1-0, bite marks and all.


[1] “Luis Suárez: ‘Biting appalls people, but it’s relatively harmless,’” The Guardian, October 25, 2014, (accessed on February 15, 2016).

[2] David Hytner, “Luis Suárez ‘bite’ incident leaves Uruguay striker facing long ban,” The Guardian, June 24, 2014, (accessed on February 15, 2016).

[3] “Luis Suarez bite: Uruguay striker banned for four months,” BBC, July 1 2014, (accessed on February 15, 2016).

[4] Ibid.

[5] David Hytner, “Luis Suárez ‘bite’ incident.”

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Luis Suárez: ‘Biting appalls people.’”

[9] David Hytner, “Luis Suárez ‘bite’ incident.”

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Luis Suarez bite: Uruguay striker banned for four months.”

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Luis Suárez: ‘Biting appalls people.’”