Thrilling? Sure it was. But Barcelona’s triumph over PSG was unattainable without some desperate playacting from Luis Suarez…
Gary Lineker labelled him “clever”. Steven Gerrard said he “gave the referee a decision to make”. Steve McManaman spun from “I’m not having that” to “it’s amazing” inside 20 seconds.
And it wasn’t just the BT Sport crew. Across the globe, match reports and social media adulation were ignoring the painful truth. Such was the fever surrounding Barcelona’s 6-1 comeback win over Paris Saint-Germain, everyone was refusing to acknowledge what had actually happened. Deep down you know, but here’s a reminder anyway: without Luis Suarez’s tragic dive, Barcelona would be out of the Champions League.
Suarez laid the foundations for immortality with immorality. Knowing it would take a fearless referee to issue two bookings for simulation, he crumpled under the faintest of brushes from Marquinhos. Again, Deniz Aytekin dipped into his pocket and flashed yellow – but rather than ordering Suarez down the tunnel, he inexplicably showed it to the defender. Neymar, fresh from his swooping free-kick, converted the penalty before completing a modern-day resurrection by teeing up Sergi Roberto’s winner.
But just as question marks surround that empty tomb near Jerusalem, so too must they hang over a famous night in Catalonia. We can’t parade divers as charlatans most weeks if – when it matters most – we condone it preserve a captivating storyline. Sure, it’s not the first dive that has swung an important result, nor is it acceptable to clear PSG of wrongdoing after they conceived their own misery with a fear-ravaged display. But without that one incident, Unai Emery would have woken from his nightmare – not be subjected to it for eternity, as he now surely will be.
If it had occurred in the 10th minute, or even the 80th, the widespread cleansing of Suarez could be forgiven. However, when Lionel Messi’s delightful clipped pass evaded the tumbling Uruguayan, the clock was already creeping towards 89:00. Barcelona were dead and buried – any other turns of events would have led to one of football’s heroic ‘almost’ tales.
It’s why comparisons to Gerrard’s flop against AC Milan in Istanbul are unfounded. Had the referee turned a blind eye to the Liverpool captain’s theatrics in 2005, the Reds still would have had 30 minutes to muster an equaliser and force extra-time; had the referee turned a blind eye to Suarez’s plunge in 2017, Barcelona would have had one minute plus stoppage time to find two goals. It was branded Mission Impossible for a reason.
Ah, but the narrative…
We can’t laud Barcelona and slam Suarez in unison as that would disturb the ‘greatest ever’ storyline – and in our age of hyperbole, where everything must be declared the best, that simply won’t do. It’s inevitable that the dive was glossed over as “controversial” and left at that. But that doesn’t make it right.
Football is about moments like Wednesday night, when everyone gets swept away in a ridiculous match. In terms of drama, it was unrivalled. But don’t kid yourself when you reflect on it – the Champions League’s greatest comeback was built on a lie.