PHILADELPHIA — Pushing and shoving? Of course. Pinching? Borderline. But biting? Retired stars Landon Donovan, Alexi Lalas and Steve McManaman said lengthy suspensions are needed to stop players from sinking their teeth into opponents, as El Salvadorans did against Americans Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“In my hierarchy of things, it’s spitting at the top and then biting as a close second of the most vile, disgusting and to be quite honest ridiculous things to do on a sporting field,” Lalas said Thursday, a day after Altidore was bitten on the back of a shoulder by Henry Romero in the 57th minute of the Americans’ 2-0 quarterfinal win. Gonzalez was gnawed by El Salvador captain Darwin Cerin in the 81st.
Bites have become a meaty problem for soccer.
“The only way to put a stop to this is to have lengthy suspensions. I understand that people make bad decisions in the heat of the moment, but it can never be acceptable to bite an opponent,” said Donovan, like Lalas now an analyst for Fox Sports. “I would assume that CONCACAF will take a particularly hard stance given their insistence on the captains speaking before each game about the importance of acting in an appropriate manner and that ‘our children are watching.’”
Victor Montagliani, president of the Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Association Football, said a subset of the group’s disciplinary committee will examine the report from the match commissioner, Randolph Harris of Barbados, and share it with the involved federations along with other evidence. The subset group then will decide whether discipline is warranted.
Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez was suspended three times for bites: seven Dutch league matches in 2010 (PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal), 10 games in England in 2013 (Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic) and four months and nine international matches (Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini during the 2014 World Cup).
“That set the precedent, and everything else will be longer than that,” predicted McManaman, a former Liverpool and England star who now is an analyst for ESPN and BT Sport. “It’s incredible. It’s been so unusual. We’ve had a raft of them in the last four to five years. Beforehand, you can’t remember anything like that going on.”
Romero also twisted Altidore’s nipple during the jostling ahead of a corner kick. While the Americans had stinging criticism for the behaviour, U.S. coach Bruce Arena said he couldn’t fault Canadian referee Drew Fischer, a Major League Soccer regular, for not noticing the incidents away from the ball ahead of restarts.
Retired Premier League referee Peter Walton, now general manager of the Professional Referee Organization that oversees on-field officials in the U.S. and Canada, said video technology can be a solution. FIFA experimented with Video Assistant Referees during this year’s Confederations Cup and Under-20 World Cup.
“Part of the protocol for the VAR is that they can identify serious missed incidents from the referee,” he said. “Acts of violent conduct should be and ought to be picked up on VAR and then the information would be given to the referee to adjudicate.”
Walton said MLS referees have become more proactive to limit the pushing and shoving that goes on ahead of restarts.
“What you’ll find is that players will try to circumvent the law, and if that means they bring in other acts of disrepute, then that’s maybe something officials need to be aware of,” he said. “So whilst we’re looking for the grappling, the grabbing, the tripping, the blocking, maybe we should be opening our repertoire to other areas of player behaviour.”
Lalas said VAR would have changed Wednesday night’s game.
“This would have been seen and flagged, and the player would have been kicked out,” he said.