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Luis Suarez was seen to apparently bite opponent in key World Cup game
The incident occurred during Uruguay's 1-0 win over Italy
Suarez has twice been punished for biting opponents during his career
Football psychologist Dan Abrahams sympathizes with the soccer star
He’s football’s chief sinner, and Luis Suarez’s alleged attempt to bite Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder in a key World Cup game has prompted an outpouring of indignation from the game’s global congregation.
While many sought to condemn a man who is embroiled in the third biting controversy of his career, some observers felt compassion for the under-fire star.
“I actually feel sympathy for him,” said Dan Abrahams, football psychology expert and author of “Soccer Brain.”
“He’s one of the world’s best players and he obviously has a problem,” he told CNN.
“That problem comes up at the wrong time, in the wrong place and he has to learn how to manage it, but that’s tough to do.”
Suarez has incisor history on the football pitch.
When playing with Dutch club Ajax in 2007 he was suspended for seven games for biting an opponent, while he was hit with a 10-match sanction for an identical offense while playing for Liverpool in April 2013.
His short fuse, according to Abrahams, is part of a negative response to frustration which he has likely been dealing with for most of his life.
This is a player who at the age of 16 was given a red card for headbutting a referee.
“It’s an instinctive response to frustration,” explained Abrahams.
“Rationally, it’s something that you would think that he could manage and deal with, but that’s not how we work as human beings. It’s something that he has to deal with and manage for the rest of his playing days.”
One criticism of Suarez is that his past indiscretions suggest he might be irredeemably unreformable.
His misdemeanor in Natal the latest in a long line of unsavory incidents which includes serving an eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra in 2011.
But Abrahams insists it’s too simplistic to say Suarez is a millionaire sports star who should know better.
“That’s not the way we as human beings or the brain works,” argues Abrahams, who points to the fact that many people have certain behavioral habits they would rather not broadcast to the public.
“The fact that he’s high profile means absolutely nothing. It’s like saying that somebody who is rich should never get depressed, it’s like saying somebody who is famous should never lose their rag.
“That’s ridiculous. Fame doesn’t inoculate your brain from life’s stresses and strains.
“We’re all subject to road rage, for instance, and that’s essentially what it is. It’s a form of road rage.”
The key to cracking Liverpool striker Suarez’s tendency to bite opposition players could lie on the training field – a place where Abrahams believes the Uruguayan could benefit from some tough love
“I think the solution is actually quite simple,” he said.
“At his home club, whether that remains Liverpool, if it’s (Liverpool manager) Brendan Rodgers and his coaching staff, what you need to do is help Luis Suarez experience frustration and experience a different reaction and response.
“A practical working example could be playing a small-sided game with Rodgers engineering a situation where Suarez would get frustrated.
“For example putting two or three Liverpool players on him and probably being overly aggressive, fouling him and making sure that when Suarez goes to react, he reacts with a different response.
“Put him under that stress and strain in every training session. Make him react and respond and then change his response from maladaptive to adaptive, so you aren’t biting somebody, you’re just carrying on with the game.”
Whether Suarez will be able to carry on at this World Cup is a matter of debate.
Uruguay’s win on Tuesday earned it a place in the second round and a tie with Colombia, but football’s global governing body FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings over the biting incident which could end Suarez’s involvement in the tournament.
Abrahams agrees that Suarez should be punished, but his overriding observation is that empathy should be shown to someone who is battling a deeply-ingrained problem.
“I just think it’s an enormous challenge for him to help himself,” he said. “I know how tough change can be and how tough managing yourself can be.
“I would imagine that 99.9% of the population are absolutely s**t at managing their mindset on a day-to-day basis.
“The fact is that sport is offered up to the media’s glare. The world is watching you, I actually feel sympathy for him.”