No current footballer divides opinion like Luis Suarez.

    There are no grey areas. You’re either with him or against him.

    Given the outrage triggered by his bite on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic – the second of his career, remember – it seemed highly likely that former colleagues and team-mates would all go to ground.

    A friend of mine, a Liverpool fan since the Shankly era, emailed me in the aftermath of the Chelsea game, “media hype succeeds and judges a peck on the arm, which didn't mark or break skin, a worse offence than lunging two footed challenges and violent stamps.”

    I knew he’d take a strong line in support of Liverpool’s latest number seven. But what about the people who knew him and worked with him at his clubs in Holland?

    At Groningen, where aged 18 he’d spent one season, before leaving under a cloud for a fee decided only after arbitration?

    At Ajax, where his penultimate game, before leaving for Liverpool, had seen him bite the PSV Eindhoven midfielder Otman Bakkal in 2010?

    What about Bakkal himself, now playing for Dynamo Moscow?

    We’ve made contact without getting an interview. Yet. There’s still time. But other key players in the Suarez story were happy to talk to us.

    Football people like Ajax team manager Herman Pinkster, FC Groningen Technical director Henk Veldmarte, former Groningen team-mate Hugo Alves, and Ghana’s world cup striker Dominic Adiyiah. And they helped to build a picture of a player with so many contradictions.

    A man, we learnt, who’s meticulous about punctuality. You arrange to see him at 09:00, and if you’re a moment late he’ll want to know why.

    Tell him you’ll do something for him, and he’ll be on your case if there’s any delay.

    A teenage striker who convinced representatives from FC Groningen they had to sign him just 15 minutes into the first match they’d watched him playing for Nacional in Uruguay.

    A captain at Ajax who made it his business to welcome new young players into the dressing room, toning down the initiation rituals for their benefit.

    A proud Uruguayan who keeps the only key to the room in his house in Montevideo which serves as a museum for his career. Entry is by invitation only.

    The presenter of the Dutch equivalent of Match of the Day, Tom Egbers, described him as “charming, always friendly, unlike so many footballers.

    “He would always give an answer, never nasty or aggressive.”

    A former amateur footballer himself in Amsterdam, Egbers put him in his top three of Ajax stars along with Johann Cruyff and Marco Van Basten adding “In terms of spectacular football, he tops the bill.”

    So what’s not to like in a player who scored 91 goals in 139 appearances in Holland and draws such compliments?

    Henk Veldmarte who recommended his signing in June 2006 reflected on his talent like this, “He’s a grown up person but the way he likes playing football sometimes also has the mentality of a child.”

    One of his closest friends in Europe is Herman Pinkster, who helped him settle in Amsterdam. Among a number of telling insights, he offered this gem. “We really had to adapt. We had never had a player that was so determined to win games, to focus like a soldier in a war to win the points.”

    Pinkster who was honoured to be invited to attend the Uruguyan’s wedding recalled a crucial game near the end of one intense title battle. Ajax won ugly 1-0 but that wasn’t good enough for the captain.

    “He was so angry that Ajax had played badly.

    “The coach tried to calm him down but he could not enjoy the moment of winning, (he was) so disappointed in the performance. “

    Pinkster is also revealing within the programme about how he and the club tackled Suarez when this ‘winning mentality’ became something darker, more devious.

    Desire for victory

    It was a theme first explored by a former Groningen team-mate, Hugo Alvez from Brazil who’d acted as his interpreter and guide on Suarez’ arrival. We were sitting in one of the bright new executive lounges at the club’s 22,000 capacity Euroborg stadium - rather like the Madjeski Stadium only with green seats - two hours outside Amsterdam. (I had to ask Hugo questions in English and he answered in Portuguese. So I had to believe that his answers were not about his favourite music, food or underpants.)

    His answers lost nothing in translation. He likes and admires Suarez very much.

    “But when he was on the pitch, everything changed. The desire for victory is with him at every moment,” he said.

     “That is why sometimes for some people he seems to go over the limits.

    “To help his team to win he can do things that other players would never do.

     “In the middle of an emotional game, he can vent it in a wrong way.”

    Alves condemned the bite on Ivanovic but his next answer also carried echoes of my friend’s email. “Sometimes I see people tackling violently with clear intention of breaking the opponent’s leg, which is much worse than to bite someone.

    “And those players get (a) one, two game ban, when the intention was just one­ to break, to destroy physically their opponent.

    “And Luis with this kind of attitude can bite someone…of course it is against the law.

    “But I see players with a much worse intention who do not get the same kind of stick Luis gets.”

    'Never do it again'

    Tom Egbers challenged Suarez over the original biting incident in 2010. And he still remembers the conversation.

    “He told me ‘I want to win. I do not approve of myself but I desperately need to win and I’ll do anything to win. Anything.’

    “Something in his brain happens. He genuinely apologized to the player, and humbly accepted the seven game ban.

    “He said he would never do it again.” Right.

    Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah who spoke to us from Ukraine and whose header Suarez saved on the goal-line with his hand to keep Uruguay in the 2010 World Cup told us, “He needs to grow up.”

    Perhaps Herman Pinkster is the closest to understanding what makes Suarez such a compelling, controversial personality.

    “He’ll always be the boy from Montevideo.”

    What's Eating Luis Suarez is at 7.30pm on Wednesday 1 May on BBC 5 live. The programme will be available to download here after broadcast.

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    • Comment number 13. Posted by Fedster

      on 7 May 2013 15:14

      So as well as 5live not covering the Champions League Semi Finals, they have not got the rights to the what is in effect a Champions League Play off between Chelsea and Spurs, which potentially could rank as 1 of the best matches of the season, to top it of, if Radio Times are correct, 5live will only be providing updates on the Chelsea vs Benfica Europa League Final!!!

      " Home of Live football"

      You are having a laugh!!

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    • Comment number 12. Posted by Chriss

      on 1 May 2013 20:15

      Yes Suarez deserved his ban but please stop going on about the Ghana match - he did what every footballer would do - if it was an Englishman doing the same in a match then they would be praised and I dare say would be roundly criticised if they didn't do the same thing. As an aside if you watch the Ghana match their chance was created due to the fact that the throw in which lead to the chance should have gone to Uruguay (and as such defenders were out of position) so justice was served - watch the replay!!

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    • Comment number 11. Posted by mike64

      on 1 May 2013 19:59

      Well done bbc.....he has had his ban....get over it,why is this even on?
      Does anyone at the bbc know there is a champions league semi final on tonight?....where is the commentary?

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    • Comment number 10. Posted by likas_kid

      on 1 May 2013 19:06

      If you want to see latin flair in the epl, you have to put your-anglo saxon sensibilities aside. He plays close to the edge and needs to be told what is acceptable here. But the kind of punishment dished out is the wrong medicine - far too harsh.. Achieves nothing but make the self-righteous feel more smug - like many on this forum.

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    • Comment number 9. Posted by Go Uruguay

      on 1 May 2013 16:41

      The ball never crossed the line back in 1966....you stole the Cup

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    • Comment number 8. Posted by crist

      on 1 May 2013 15:13

      It says a lot about fotballers when those who attended the PFA awards loudly booed when Lois was named in the premier league team athe weekend, yet probably the same set of moralists cheered and applauded a convicted rapist, Ched Evans, when he was named in the div 1 team last year 2 days after being sent to prison for 5 years they obviously feel that biting more reprehensible than rape.

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    • Comment number 7. Posted by zelda

      on 1 May 2013 15:01

      If a grown man cannot control himself, he should not be playing football or any other game. If he has a mental problem, he should get it sorted out.

      You apologists for footballers and their dreadful behaviour is one of the reasons the game and many of it supporters are held in such low regard others.

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    • Comment number 6. Posted by Pigeon Man

      on 1 May 2013 13:39

      Fascinating.
      Avoiding the temptation as a Liverpool fan to use the words 'overreaction' and 'media hype', instead it's worth pointing out the irony that had Suarez's 'bite of death' been seen by the officials and only earned a booking, the FA wouldn't have been able to do a thing retrospectively. From infinite power to powerless when what we need is clear procedures, scales and tariffs as EpicSwindle suggested.

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    • Comment number 5. Posted by LFCfan128

      on 1 May 2013 12:54

      Steady on. What Suarez was wrong and he got fined and suspended, however there were no damages to Ivanovic arm. Suarez is not the first to bite and wont be the last. Biting has happened in football in the past and also rugby etc. Anyone remembers Vinnie Jones "grabbing" incident against Gazza?! Please dont jusge the man but the incident. Is Suarez biting incident in the top 6 worse offences in EPL football? NO! Move on. I am sure Suarez is having a nice break somewhere before he plays for Uraguay in the Summer.

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    • Comment number 4. Posted by mistered5

      on 1 May 2013 11:32

      I agree with EpicSwindle that the most depressing aspect of this story is the FA's disciplinary process seems to be based on the image of the offence rather than severity.

      I'm completely ambivalent about Suarez (unlike the suggestion above that everyone loves or hates him) and the punishment seems completely over the top. When you compare the length of bans that Suarez and Joey Barton (another media hate figure) got for incidents that had zero chance of seriously injuring another player with the McManaman incident it just makes the FA look a bit silly and archaic.

      When the cricket and rubgy union authorities look far more modern than football then the FA have a serious problem!

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