Suarez sweating on Evra race verdict as Liverpool owner Henry faces up to the challenge
Of all the issues John W Henry has encountered in English football since mounting a 300million takeover of Liverpool, none has been quite so thorny as the allegation currently levelled at Luis Suarez.
If — and it remains an if — the Uruguay striker is found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra by a three-man disciplinary panel on Friday, Henry will be confronted with his biggest challenge since wresting control from fellow Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett 14 months ago.
Row: Patrice Evra (left) and Luis Suarez at Anfield
THE THREE MEN WHO WILL DECIDE SUAREZ”S FATE
Paul Golding QC (chairman) – Qualified FA coach, who works for same Blackstone Chambers as FA barrister Adam Lewis – the man who helped reduce Wayne Rooney”s Euro 2012 ban.
Brian Jones – Sheffield and Hallamshire FA chairman since 2009.
Denis Smith – Ex-Stoke and York player who once bossed Sunderland. Now works as mentor at Stoke”s youth academy.
Henry has joined manager Kenny Dalglish in offering his full support to Suarez. The striker flatly denies the FA charge of using ‘abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour’ towards Evra when the teams met at Anfield in October and any suggestion that his comments ‘included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race’ of his opponent.
The Liverpool owner is also believed to have submitted to the panel testimony in Suarez’s defence since they convened at an unknown hotel on Wednesday.
But if the verdict goes against Suarez — as Evra has been privately predicting to his United team-mates for some time — Henry would find himself in a very awkward position.
Night out: Evra with his wife Sandra attend Manchester United”s UNICEF dinner at Old Trafford earlier this week
He could not be seen to condone racist behaviour, even though his player’s defence has turned this into a far more complex matter than meets the eye. He would have to consider the image of one of English football’s great clubs, as well as his Fenway Sports Group who also own baseball’s Boston Red Sox.
Boston might not be known as one of the more racially tolerant cities inthe United States but, strangely, it is a situation Henry has never encountered in sport before.
However, those who have seen the Red Sox involved in inner-city initiatives under his stewardship — as well as work honouring the careerof Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player of themodern era — are in little doubt about how Henry would view the situation.
‘If it’s true, your guy’s in trouble,’ said Dan Shaughnessy, a Boston Globe columnist and seasoned Henry observer. ‘John Henry is a man of honour and an open thinker who treats people equally with no regard for race or colour. He is completely tolerant and an advocate of everybody getting along.
‘There have been no incidents like this during his time in Boston, but he would revile at that. His morality would be violated.’
Although the case has become one man’s word against the other, there are complexities that have left it open to interpretation.
Ploughing on: Suarez has been in the goals for Liverpool
From the moment Sir Alex Ferguson escorted his player to see referee Andre Marriner at Anfield after the game on October 15, Evra has insisted Suarez abused him on numerous occasions when they clashed in the second half.
He has confided in team-mates for several weeks that he is supremely confident the case against Suarez will be proven and his complaint will be vindicated.
Ferguson has also accused Liverpool of going against the FA’s wishes for confidentiality by ‘drip- feeding’ information about the case into the public domain.
Dalglish played a straight bat when the issue was put to him yesterday.
‘We cannot do or say anything that’s going to be prejudicial in any way,’ said the Liverpool manager.
‘With regards to Luis, we will just say what we have said before. We arestanding right beside him and helping him as much as we possibly can. After it’s finished there’s a chance to have a conversation.’
Suarez does not deny using the word ‘negro’ or ‘negrito’ once, but what has complicated the case is his defence that the term was not meant as an insult and would be acceptable in Uruguay and many countries around the world.
The context in which it was used was not insulting, he claims, and Liverpool are believed to have employed a linguistics expert to argue this point.
Body language is also said to have been put forward as a mitigating factor, with Suarez claiming his lack of aggression towards Evra also suggests no harm was meant by his comments. His defence have submitted video evidence they believe supports this point.
Although there was little cultural interpretation needed for Suarez’s body language when it came to the one-fingered gesture he gave Fulham fans this month — a separate FA charge followed for that — his defence is expected to cite Evra’s previous; notably the hearing that followed aconfrontation between United players and Chelsea ground staff in 2008 which found Evra’s account of events to be ‘exaggerated and unreliable’.
These are the matters the three-man panel must consider before making their decision, which is expected on Friday
The decision reached by those three men could have a huge effect on the reputation of Luis Suarez — and what John W Henry does next.