Uruguay star Luis Suarez returned home to a hero’s welcome on Friday after his World Cup ban for biting, as calls mounted for him to seek professional treatment.
Hundreds of well-wishers gathered in Montevideo to greet Suarez as Uruguayans, led by the country’s president, closed ranks around the disgraced star.
Suarez was hit with a worldwide four-month ban from all soccer on Thursday after he sank his teeth into Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini.
It is the third time in four years that Suarez has been sanctioned for biting, and the latest incident triggered widespread outrage in the soccer community.
FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke led calls for Suarez to seek help, brushing off suggestions that the Liverpool star’s punishment was too severe.
Asked if he had a message for Suarez, Valcke told reporters: “I think he should find a way to stop doing it. He should go through a treatment. It is definitely wrong.”
International professional soccer player’s union FIFPro said FIFA should have made mandatory treatment part of its sanction.
“Luis Suarez should receive all the support he needs to deal with any off-field issues he may be experiencing at this time,” a FIFPro statement said. “This means that the focus should be on the rehabilitation and serious treatment of the player. FIFPro believes that treatment must be a part of any sanction.”
Bitten player Chiellini expressed sympathy for Suarez and criticized FIFA’s punishment, which is the heaviest ever imposed on a player during a World Cup.
“I have always considered unequivocal the disciplinary interventions by the competent bodies, but at the same time I believe that the proposed formula is excessive,” Chiellini said.
Uruguay has rallied behind the shamed goal-scorer.
A private jet carrying the player landed in Montevideo just before dawn. Hundreds of fans carrying banners with slogans such as “Luis, all of Uruguay is with you” were waiting.
“He has been treated worse than a murderer, when it was just a mistake,” one of the fans at the airport told reporters.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said he met Suarez after the player’s return and before he was driven away to his mother’s home in the southern province of Canelones.
Mujica said in his weekly radio address that FIFA’s punishment of Suarez would become an “eternal shame” for soccer.
“We think this will be remembered, this will remain among the worst moments in the history of football. This will be an eternal shame in the story of World Cups,” Mujica said.
Later on Friday, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez also condemned FIFA’s punishment, telling reporters Suarez had been a “scapegoat.”
Tabarez also said that the ban had left Uruguay determined to stay in the World Cup for as long as possible.
“To the Uruguayan fans: They, like us, are moved by the resonance of this punishment,” Tabarez said. “I want to let them know that we are hurt, but with our outstanding force and more than ever ... we will do our utmost.”
British media speculated that the sanctions could wipe a substantial amount off the value of Suarez if Liverpool decide to sell him. The English club has not yet commented on the case, insisting it was waiting to see FIFA’s report. After Suarez scored two goals against England, media reports said Barcelona and Real Madrid would be ready to offer 100 million euros (US$136 million) for the striker — triggering a release clause in his Liverpool contract.