While pleased Luis Suarez is back in action following a biting ban, Liverpool is still concerned about the damage the striker caused for the club’s brand globally.
The 10-match suspension for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a game in April came after Suarez had been banned for eight games after racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra in 2011.
“Any types of incident of that nature are damaging to a brand,” Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre said on Thursday.
Suarez returned to action in a 1-0 loss to Manchester United in the League Cup on Wednesday, although the Uruguay striker hoped not to be playing in a Liverpool shirt again.
Throughout the offseason, rather than focusing on repairing his image, Suarez was publicly pushing for a transfer away from Liverpool in search of Champions League football. Liverpool, though, was steadfast in rejecting bids from Arsenal for the Uruguay international and put him through a rehabilitation process to try and ensure there are no further incidents that harm the club.
“Luis is a footballer, he’s a street fighter, he’s a larger-than-life character,” Ayre said at the Sport Industry Group Breakfast Club in London. “Nobody is condoning any bad behavior but it’s just something you have to deal with. He is what he is, he is the character he is, and we have to try and harness that.
“We have worked a lot with Luis since the last incident with Ivanovic and he has responded well to that. He has been prepared to commit to that sort of work on his character.”
While Ayre said Suarez’s misdemeanors haven’t hit sponsorship revenue, the 121-year-old club wants to ensure its principles are upheld.
“We are very much an institution and we base ourselves on family values, and when your kids are naughty you tell them off and you try to teach them the error of your ways it’s no different,” Ayre said.
“Every time you have a negative issue like that particular one then of course it’s damaging, but the important thing is to put it right and restore the integrity of the football club. And I believe that’s what we did.”
The club and its American ownership backed Suarez after the racist-abuse verdict, hitting out at the English Football Association process.
After Suarez sunk his teeth into Ivanovic during a Premier League game in April, Liverpool immediately condemned the player’s actions, while still claiming he was being victimized with his hefty sanction.
But Liverpool, whose principal owner is sports tycoon John Henry, has learnt lessons from how it handled the Suarez cases.
“What’s important at those times is to ensure we act respectively and professionally as a football club, and in the past we’ve got some of that wrong and more recently we got that right,” Ayre said.
“We have a process now,” he added. “It’s not a Luis Suarez process it’s a process for any crisis whether it’s on the pitch or off the pitch.”
For now, Suarez is back helping Liverpool’s bid to return to the top four and qualify for the Champions League again.
“I’m here to help the team and help Liverpool and I’ll try my best,” Suarez said after the game at Old Trafford.
And Ayre was glad to see him back “terrorizing defenders.”
“He is a great team member,” Ayre said. “The players are supportive of him and he is supportive of them. The most important thing is that he is on the football pitch, and most importantly committed to playing for Liverpool.