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What was Luis Suarez thinking?! I mean c’mon, by (allegedly!) biting an opponent’s shoulder, on the world stage, surely he’s waved cheerio to the rest of his tournament.

The evidence looks damning. Everything points towards his guilt. The video replays, the reaction and subsequent body language of both players, with the post match reactions also telling in my view. If you watch Suarez’s behaviour after the incident and at the end of the game, I think he has a troubled look about him. Guilt? Regret? Shame? Following this, I can’t see how the outcome of the investigation can be anything other than FIFA throwing the book at him.

So what on earth is going on for Suarez on a psychological level? What would make a football player (and a world class one at that) resort to biting on the field of play, not just once, but on three separate occasions? There is always a context – as the saying goes, ‘no behaviour occurs in a vacuum’.

It is certainly easy to vilify him for this, and in truth, it's a really unpleasant (and unusual) behaviour to see from a grown adult, particularly so given his profile and where & when this happened. However, I don’t think the decision to bite was really much of a conscious choice on Suarez’s part.

There is something quite primitive or childlike about biting. Most parents will relate to a biting phase that one or other of their children will have been through, and it’s quite commonplace in nurseries and playgroups. Usually biting at this stage – like any aggressive behaviour – occurs in response to emotion, as a defence, or as something that is role modelled from someone else. It can even be experimental. Managed properly it will quickly abate.

Suarez, in as much as I know about him, had a tough upbringing, and I would say that his biting is a learned response that part of him has simply not grown out of. I would guess that in the past Suarez has known violence, anger and threat, and when he feels under attack, he responds, not with his fists, but with his teeth. So provocation almost certainly played a role. I am reminded of Zindane’s infamous head-butt (also against an Italian defender), or Cantona’s kung-fu kick, both outrageous acts, both in the face of torrents of verbal abuse.

I would also say there is probably a ‘dissociative’ element to Suarez’s frame of mind when he plays football, particularly in bigger, more important, and more pressurised games. When someone is in a dissociative state, they detach from conscious thought, emotions and behaviours, and sometimes even memories. There is something about the intensity of high-level sport that I think can induce this kind of state. In extreme cases, a tendency to dissociate can be linked to childhood trauma. The rational part of Suarez’s brain is almost certainly ‘closed down’ in the heat of an intense and highly competitive football match.

I do not mean to excuse Suarez’s behaviour. Like most, I think he deserves a lengthy ban from the sport. But he also needs help, or else we are likely to see this behaviour occur again.

Yours in psychology,


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