Comment: Why Suarez apologies can start to repair the sorry state of Liverpool's reputation

They began the journey a few months ago, a great old football club who refused to listen when they were told they were heading in the wrong direction.

Bystanders waved frantically and tried to warn them they were driving towards the cliff but nothing would deflect them from their course.

Not the exhaustive 115-page document that concluded Luis Suarez had racially abused Patrice Evra at Anfield on October 15.

Not the abuse from the Kop aimed at a young black player from Oldham Athletic called Tom Adeyemi that reduced him to tears.

Not the vile racist bile aimed at a host of current and former players like Stan Collymore, Jason Roberts, Darren Byfield and Mark Bright.

Not the merciless taunting that sections of the Anfield crowd visited upon Evra when United returned there a couple of weeks ago, vicious baiting that Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish excused as “banter”.

On and on, remorselessly they drove, hands gripping the steering wheel tightly. Even last week, when Suarez returned from his eight-match ban, Dalglish marked the occasion by stressing he should never have been punished in the first place.

Then on Saturday, Suarez refused to shake Evra’s hand before the kick-off at Old Trafford and still Liverpool sped on towards the chasm.

After the match, Dalglish blamed Sky Sports for what Suarez had done and told their reporter he was “out of order” for asking about it.

Even on Saturday evening, a campaign so absurd it was ridiculous began which claimed that it was Evra who had refused to shake Suarez’s hand.

Some Liverpool fans bought into it. There was another spasm of racist abuse aimed at Collymore. Many accused Evra of ‘playing’ Suarez like a sneak.

It seemed then that the juggernaut was out of control and that a club with a wonderful history was hell-bent on self-destruction.

It was not just that they were becoming a laughing stock. It was worse than that.

After everything that had happened, Suarez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand made headlines worldwide. Liverpool were being branded as a club that condoned racism.

And then yesterday afternoon, finally, Liverpool stopped on the road to perdition. They stopped and turned around.

Suarez apologised. Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre apologised. And late in the afternoon, Dalglish did too.

There was no word from club owner John W Henry but many thought they detected his hand in the statements, particularly when it emerged that damning articles on Suarez’s behaviour at Old Trafford had run in yesterday’s New York Times and Boston Globe.

The apologies were fulsome. Suarez said he was sorry for betraying the club and what it stood for, Ayre said he was “extremely disappointed” in Suarez and Dalglish said he had not behaved in a way “befitting of a Liverpool manager”.

Many pointed out there was still no apology for the original racist abuse of Evra but most just breathed a sigh of relief.

This has been a magical Premier League season with two of the most celebrated football results in English history, United beating Arsenal 8-2 and Manchester City winning 6-1 at Old Trafford.

It has been the season of a new challenger topping the table, of Paul Scholes emerging from retirement, of Thierry Henry returning from America in glory for Arsenal.

It has been the season of Newcastle stunning the Premier League and Swansea and Norwich astounding everyone with their boldness.

And despite all that, Liverpool’s blurred stance on racism and allegations that John Terry had aimed racist insults at Anton Ferdinand were poisoning everything. Liverpool’s apologies are not a cure. But it is to be hoped that they mark the beginning of a healing process.

Even if the apologies only relate to the failure of Suarez to shake hands, it feels there is a wider message. It feels as if a dam has burst.

Because finally, Liverpool condemned Suarez. They stopped writhing. They were unequivocal in their criticism.

They did not cut him loose. They stopped short of disowning him but their doomed attempts to defend him, come what may, have now ceased.

Many at the club must now feel foolish and embarrassed. Suarez has led them a dance for too long.

Suarez’s duplicity on Saturday raises all sorts of questions about the reliability of his evidence to the independent tribunal in his original dispute with Evra.

“We lost and we are sad because we have made a big effort,” Suarez wrote on Twitter after Saturday’s match. Then he added: “Disappointed because everything is not what it seems...”

Actually, we now know everything was exactly as it seemed. He promised to shake Evra’s hand and he didn’t.

He promised to try to provide an antidote to the poison that had spread. He didn’t.

Were there, perhaps, other things he told those who have stood by him so loyally and at so much cost to themselves and the club? Other things, perhaps, that also fell short of the truth?

As Dalglish and Ayre embark on the process of trying to repair the damage, their apologies still fresh on their lips, those are the questions that will haunt them long into the night.

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