Luis Suárez is considering his future in English football having been left stunned by a 10-match ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic at Anfield on Sunday.
Liverpool have repeatedly denied they would sell their leading goalscorer, as recently as Monday, but there are concerns within the club that the severity of the punishment has left Suárez feeling persecuted and more open to offers from Europe this summer. Juventus have retained an interest in the 26-year-old since last year, Bayern Munich have been linked because Pep Guardiola's brother, Pere, is Suárez's agent and the striker will be a target for Atlético Madrid in the event of Radamel Falcao's departure.
Suárez will be sidelined until September as a result of Wednesday's ruling by an independent regulatory commission and has until midday on Friday to appeal against one of the longest suspensions imposed by the Football Association. The ban has commenced with immediate effect. The striker would still have to serve the final six games of the suspension next season if he moved abroad, as was the case when Joey Barton moved to Marseille in the midst of a 12-match ban collected at Queens Park Rangers. But the belief he is being victimised by the football authorities in England has prompted Suárez to consider a fresh start in Europe.
The Uruguay forward continues to feel wronged by the eight-match suspension and £40,000 fine he received last season for using racially abusive language towards Patrice Evra, a decision reached by another independent regulatory commission. In a submission to the hearing on Wednesday, Suárez claimed the bite on the Serbian defender did not deserve more than an automatic three-match ban for violent conduct. That was rejected outright by the three-man panel, all impartial from Liverpool and Chelsea, who met via video-link and imposed a penalty more than three times greater than Suárez believed necessary.
Liverpool had feared that Suárez's chequered career in English football and pressure from the prime minister's office would result in a substantial ban but were taken aback by its severity. The club and player will receive written reasons for the 10-match suspension from the FA on Thursday before deciding whether to appeal. Liverpool supported Suárez's decision to challenge the FA's announcement that a three-match ban was "clearly insufficient" and an appeal is expected.
Ian Ayre, the Liverpool managing director who publicly rebuked Suárez on Sunday and fined him on Monday, said: "Both the club and player are shocked and disappointed at the severity of today's independent regulatory commission decision. We await the written reasons tomorrow before making any further comment."
The commission's explanation for the 10-match suspension will not be made public until Liverpool and Suárez have received its report. A seven-match ban from the Dutch FA for biting PSV Eindhoven's Otman Bakkal in November 2010 could not be taken into account by the panel but they could consider Suárez's disciplinary record in English football, including the Evra verdict, if they wished.
Suárez's punishment has led to criticism of the inconsistencies in the FA's disciplinary process, with Jermain Defoe receiving only a yellow card for biting Javier Mascherano in 2006 and therefore avoiding retrospective punishment, and the Uruguayan landing a longer ban for biting than using racially abusive language. The FA's position on racist abuse has changed since the Suárez and John Terry cases, however, and the organisation has drawn up stiffer penalties, independently of Uefa's proposed directive, that are expected to be announced within weeks.
The commission considered the FA's charge of violent conduct, and recommendation that three matches were insufficient, against a written submission from Liverpool on Suárez's behalf.
An FA statement said: "A three-person independent regulatory commission today upheld the FA's claim that a suspension of three matches was clearly insufficient and the player will serve a further seven first-team matches in addition to the standard three. The suspension begins with immediate effect.
"The Liverpool forward had accepted a charge of violent conduct but had denied the FA's claim that the standard three-match sanction was insufficient for the offence. The incident was not seen by the match officials and has therefore been retrospectively reviewed. Suárez has until midday on Friday 26 April to appeal the additional suspension, above the standard three matches."
Suárez's suspension will commence with Liverpool's match against Newcastle United at St James' Park on Saturday evening and the striker, who took his tally for the season to 30 with a 97th-minute equaliser against Chelsea, will also miss matches against Everton, Fulham and QPR before the season finishes.
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