You can tell who the Arsenal fans are this week. They're the ones who have shaved each eyebrow into an umlaut, all the better to adorn their dreamy gazing upon Germany's World Cup qualifier against Austria. Arsène Wenger has finally ditched the limp, gotten into Kobayashi's car and spent big on a bona fide ace, Mesut Özil. Özil has damn near become a hero before he’s even travelled to London. The airspace above the moon is dense with Gooners, while Real Madrid supporters have been left confused and irritable, even more so than normal. It's almost enough to make you forget that Arsenal have still failed to sign the defender and centre-forward they need. Almost enough, too, to make you forget that earlier this summer, they had been very keen to spend what became the Özil money on Luis Suárez.
How things might have turned out had Liverpool’s doubly nippy striker made his way south has been left to scholars of the counterfactual. But where would they begin? When the gods of football play dice with the helpless schnooks below, in the manner of J. Henry Waugh, they have special provisions for when Suárez is on the field; he is an Extraordinary Occurrences Chart all by himself. Whatever will happen next? Will he spin a defender into a baffled standstill? Will he racially abuse an opponent and subsequently give it the “what, me, guv?”? Will he fashion a brace and an assist from dust? Will he leave a dental dent in a lad's arm? Will he create ten chances by himself, for himself, and miss them all? Will he shake down some kid in the front row for pennies and a 3DS and run to his teammates to relate the gleeful news? Will he win you the title with thirty goals, twenty beautifully wrought dives, and a shameless professional foul, then wedge a written request to join Real Madrid in the handle of the trophy?
Suárez may give the strong impression of being High King of the Shitehawks, but he does it with such enterprise and brio that you can’t help watching. He’s the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote in one. He’s the pyromaniac kid who knows where to get you the best fireworks. Some of us might fancy ourselves as connoisseurs of the subtle, of the things a devotion to which denotes a finer sensibility, don’t you know. But Suárez is a reminder of sport’s capacity for the farcical and slapstickular. Surrender to the uncertain is at the heart of what watching sport is about, but there is much that works against this: almost every decision a coach makes is a bid for control; most players’ games strive for artisanship and reliability. Suárez is a ludicrous, broad-strokes example of what happens when these stabilizing forces get screwed with good and proper. With him, the sublime and the ridiculous are suspiciously never in the same room at the same time. Banish me to an exposed and barren hillside if you really must, but I get a kick out of watching him do something insane – insanely good, insanely bad, insanely morally reprehensible – and seeing everyone around him try and waft the smoke from what used to be their synapses. What’s more, I delight in the sheer possibility that something mad might happen. If you really want to surrender to the uncertain, you may as well go a substantial fraction of the hog. I don’t like Suárez, but I’m glad he’s there. I’ll take that any time (while duly pausing to lament his most excessive excesses) over a uniformity of admirable professionalism and more gentlemanly skulduggery.
Wait, did I say “any time”? Um …
When the initial stage whispers about Arsenal’s interest in signing Suárez were heard, it wasn’t hard to see the benefits. After all, it’s been a long-running gag that Arsenal are parched for want of a player or six of Suárez’s grade. And all teams need some devil in them. How hard can it be to let a supreme talent such as this work his dark magic on your downtrodden troop? What’s a little soul-selling between the desperate? Just lie back and think shiny thoughts, no?
But this Arsenal fan was terrified. This team is a delicate bouquet, and thoughts turned to the morbid, to worst-case scenarios that resembled Fr. Dougal doing a funeral. To be honest, even were they made of more robust material, Suárez-to-Arsenal would still be objectionable. That “Suárez is a glorious whatnot to the mundane such-and-such of quotidian blah-hoo” paragraph above is applicable when you consider Suárez in his proper context, i.e. as a fictional character.
But when he is in danger of a having more direct, fifty-times-a-year effect on the team you laughably call yours, he becomes all too real. When there’s a fourth wall between you and him, when it’s somebody else’s head he’s wrecking, you can enjoy the show without having to keep the clean-up team and shrink on speed dial. But with your club, it’s not uncertainty you’re after. Or at least the uncertainty you’re after is ideally of the delightful kind, not the delightful kind with a siren on top. There’s unpredictability, and there’s unpredictability. There’s a magical mystery tour, and there’s being bundled in the back of a van and dumped on a moonless byway. Comedy is when Luis Suárez plays for your team; tragedy is when he plays for mine.
As we know, the deal never happened, petering out on release-clause confusion and Liverpool pointing out that there’s actually a contract here with your signature on it, asshole. Instead, in has petered Mesut. Ol’ Mez. Sweet, darling Mezzer. As we become nicely squiffy on high-proof concoctions of the intoxicant called Hope, I can’t but wonder whether the feeling is intensified by the rush of escape from what might have been. Because whereas Suárez is trouble with a capital t, r, o, u, b, l and even, it’s been said, e, our Mezlington is no bother to anyone. Not only is his talent somewhere north of stonking, but he’s never done anyone a whit of harm. At least, he’s never bitten anyone nor employed a spot of, shall we say, tactical racism on behalf of the cause. While Arsenal fans wallow in untested smugness, Liverpool fans will soon have to face the return of their man from his latest suspension. How they’ve dealt these past few years with the sporting equivalent of having George Costanza marry into your family, I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t want to know. I’m away to stick my fingers in my ears and chant “öööööööömmm …”