RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Uruguay’s Luis Suarez was hit with the longest ban imposed at a World Cup on Thursday as FIFA threw the book at one of soccer’s most talented but controversial players for biting an opponent.
Suarez was suspended from all football-related activity for four months by the sport’s world governing body which also ruled he could not play in Uruguay’s next nine competitive games, immediately ending his involvement in the World Cup in Brazil.
The ban means the striker is unlikely to appear in non-friendly matches for his country until 2016.
“He is totally distraught. He never thought the punishment would be so severe,” said Alejandro Balbi who is a member of the Uruguayan Football Association’s board and Suarez’s lawyer.
The four-month ban means Suarez will have to sit out the first two months of the next English season and he will miss Liverpool’s opening Premier League and Champions League matches.
“Such behaviour cannot be tolerated on any football pitch, and in particular not at a FIFA World Cup when the eyes of millions of people are on the stars on the field,” said Claudio Sulser, the chairman of FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee.
The 27-year-old striker left his Uruguay team mates shortly after FIFA’s announcement, depriving them of their most outstanding player two days before a do-or-die match against Colombia in the second round of the World Cup.
FIFA also fined Suarez 100,000 Swiss francs ($111,000) after 10 hours of deliberations by its Disciplinary Committee.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica joined hundreds of fans in waiting at the country’s main airport to give Suarez a hero’s welcome on Thursday night, although they gave up after a few hours when it became clear he had not yet left Brazil.
He was expected to arrive in the early hours of Friday.
Mujica summed up the indignation in the South American country where Suarez is considered a hero.
“We didn’t choose him to be a philosopher, or a mechanic, or to have good manners - he’s a great player,” Mujica said, speaking on Wednesday. “I didn’t see him bite anyone.”
The support for Suarez at home is in stark contrast to his image as a hothead for many in Europe where he has been involved in two previous biting incidents.
The Uruguayan FA said it would appeal against the ruling to FIFA as quickly as possible, paving the way for another challenge to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a final appeals body. But Suarez cannot play even if the challenges are lodged.
“Indignation, impotence, I think that’s what we all feel,” Uruguay’s team captain Diego Lugano said. “We’d all like a fairer world, but that world simply does not exist.”
Suarez is one of the most gifted players in world football, scoring 31 league goals in 33 games for Liverpool last season.
He returned from a month on the sidelines with an injury to score twice in Uruguay’s 2-1 win over England last week, transforming the team’s World Cup which began with a shock defeat by Costa Rica in a game Suarez missed through injury.
But he is also one of the game’s most troubled players. As well as two previous bans for biting, Suarez was accused of racially abusing a player in England in 2011.
Former Brazil striker Ronaldo had no sympathy.
“Football must set an example and show examples of good players,” he told reporters. “People who are out of line must be punished.
“If my little children bite me, they are sent to the dark room with the big bad wolf. This is football’s equivalent.”
Suarez cannot even train or attend matches with Liverpool until late October, a big blow to their domestic and European ambitions.
Although FIFA has banned many players for life and issued other lengthy playing suspensions, this is the record punishment imposed for wrongdoing at the World Cup, surpassing the eight- game ban handed to Italy’s Mauro Tassotti for breaking the nose of Spain’s Luis Enrique in 1994.
As well as the previous biting cases, Suarez was banned for a match at the 2010 World Cup for a deliberate handball that cost Ghana a match-winning goal in a quarter-final.
The latest incident occurred in the tense final minutes of Uruguay’s last Group D match against Italy, shortly before the South American champions scored to seal a 1-0 win and knock Italy out of the tournament.
Suarez clashed with Giorgio Chiellini and the defender pulled down his collar to show the mark on his shoulder to the referee, who took no action.
Reuters photographs showed what FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee accepted were bite marks. Pictures also showed Suarez sitting on the ground holding his teeth.
The ruling may have long-term repercussions for Suarez off the pitch. His sponsors had said they would decide on their relationship once the outcome of the investigation was known.
German sportswear firm Adidas stopped short on Thursday of axing Suarez but said it would not use him in any further World Cup marketing.
“Adidas certainly does not condone Luis Suarez’s recent behaviour and we will again be reminding him of the high standards we expect from our players,” a spokeswoman said.
Suarez’s value in the transfer market, estimated to be at least 50 million pounds ($85 million), could also be affected should Liverpool decide to sell him.
He served a 10-match ban last year after biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic in a Premier League match and in 2010 he was suspended for seven games for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal while playing for Ajax Amsterdam.
The other major controversy of his career came in 2011 when he was alleged to have racially abused Manchester United’s France defender Patrice Evra during a Premier League match.
Writing by Ed Osmond,; additional reporting by Malena Castaldi and Irene Schreiber in Montevideo and Emma Thomasson in Berlin and; Editing by Kieran Murray and Ken Ferris