The handshake that never wasSo apparently sorry doesn't seem to be the hardest word after all. Following months of abject and damaging obstinacy over the Luis Suarez affair, Liverpool Football Club finally expressed genuine contrition on Sunday. They finally released a series of club statements to take the sting out of the controversy, rather than inflame it further.
In the depressing parade of racism that this season has seemingly become, no one club has been damaged as much as Liverpool, its tradition and reputation sullied by a misguided campaign to support Suarez. The whole club has been degraded for the sake of standing by a player who racially abused an opponent, and on Saturday chose to snub a handshake offered by his victim.
Such was the poisonous fall-out from events at Old Trafford, and Kenny Dalglish's refusal to either condemn Suarez or offer any kind of contrition over a matter both he and the club have horribly mishandled from the start, Early Doors was pleased to see Liverpool finally take action and start to halt what was rapidly becoming a PR disaster of unfathomable proportions.
A brand hasn't suffered such damage since Gerald Ratner took to a stage in 1991 and declared his own jewellery products to be "total crap", resulting in the virtual death of his high-street empire.
It is impossible to know what the tipping point was that finally forced Liverpool to show some remorse over this whole sordid affair, and for Suarez to finally acknowledge that he had been at fault. Not for his racist abuse of Evra it must be noted, but the far lesser crime of refusing to shake the United player's hand. One step at a time, eh?
The handshake that never was made the pages of John W Henry's local Boston Herald though, while the New York Times carried a piece that opened "if the Fenway Sports Group is to be the responsible team owner in soccer that it has proved to be in baseball, it needs to get hold of Liverpool, its club in England's Premier League, and repair its global image fast". As a result it is reported that the club's American owners issued a diktat from on high to start treating the matter more proactively and urgently.
If so, they should be commended for finally providing the leadership that the club have been sorely lacking during this period of moral vacuum at Anfield.
The statement issued by managing director Ian Ayre was laudably forthright in its criticism of Suarez, as the striker was finally held to account for his actions, rather than excused, indulged and defended once again.
"We are extremely disappointed Luis Suarez did not shake hands with Patrice Evra before yesterday's game," said Ayre. "The player had told us beforehand that he would, but then chose not to do so.
"He was wrong to mislead us and wrong not to offer his hand to Patrice Evra. He has not only let himself down, but also Kenny Dalglish, his team-mates and the club. It has been made absolutely clear to Luis Suarez that his behaviour was not acceptable."
Sadly, had Liverpool taken such a robust stance with a man guilty of racist abuse much earlier, then perhaps this depressing issue would not have generated the momentum it has, casting a shadow over what, on the pitch at least, has been a wonderful season. Because Suarez has not just acted as an individual in isolation: he has been enabled by his club and his manager. This was perhaps the most depressing aspect of Saturday's episode: it was not just the behaviour of a rogue player, but the manifestation of an attitude percolating throughout the club, from the manager down.
Liverpool, one of the great European clubs, had fostered an atmosphere in which Suarez could use a racial term in a heated context and then feel a burning sense of injustice that he was punished for it, to the extent that he then inflamed an already volatile situation by publicly snubbing the hand of his victim just prior to the most intense rivalry in English football.
From the very start of this whole controversy, Liverpool had attempted to paint Suarez as the victim, and Evra as a liar. The club's immediate statement after Suarez was hit with an eight-game ban erroneously accused Evra of "prior unfounded accusations" — the most disingenuous kind of character assassination of a man who had been the victim of racist abuse. Their warped sense of morality was evident again when those pathetic t-shirts were produced.
What was even more depressing was that at the heart of this misguided approach was Dalglish, a totemic figure in the history of Liverpool and English football. To see him degenerate into a Suarez apologist, claiming only last week that "[Suarez] should never have been [banned] in the first place", and conduct the kind of embarrassing post-match interview he did on Saturday, was genuinely painful to watch.
No one can question Dalglish's love for Liverpool. No one can ever diminish what he did during his first spell at the club, when he continued their legacy of success on the pitch and carried them through their darkest days off it with unimpeachable dignity and strength. His reputation in this respect is set in stone, particularly in a city in which he is rightly idolised.
However, Dalglish got an absolute savaging in the press on Sunday, was told he had left his "dignity in tatters" and was a "scowling, sneering bar-room bully". These were not the kind of headlines he was supposed to make when returning to manage at Anfield a second time, promising to restore The Liverpool Way. The King's coronation following Roy Hodgson's departure last year was supposed to herald a return to happier times; instead Suarez's behaviour and his response to it ensured the club's reputation has rarely been lower than it has recently.
It must have been incredibly painful for a man with such an umbilical link to the club to admit that "I did not conduct myself in a way befitting of a Liverpool manager during that interview [after the match] and I'd like to apologise for that".
Liverpool, Suarez and Dalglish had so many opportunities to apologise of course, to show even an ounce of contrition. They could have drawn the line under this sorry affair on numerous occasions in the past. Finally, instead of contriving to perpetuate a story that shames English football, they have chosen to address it head on, or at least some aspects of it.
To be brutally honest, the fact that neither Liverpool nor Suarez have apologised for the racist abuse, or the smear campaign that followed it, remains the source of some regret. That both parties presumably still feel a sense of injustice over the ban, and are still satisfied with their reaction to it, should remain of some concern to those who work so tirelessly to combat racism. Apologising for a missed handshake is not the same as apologising for racist abuse.
But Manchester United felt sufficiently placated to issue their own statement accepting Liverpool's apology on Sunday evening, signalling that the time has come to draw a line under this unsavoury episode. Finally, Liverpool have shown some leadership at a time when previously it was so lacking.
- - -
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Age does not matter. No. Look at Paul Scholes. Let's be honest, you would love to have him at the European Championships. He's that good ... Parker could be a good England captain. But there are some outstanding candidates for that job. Gerrard is a good candidate. There are one or two who could do it ... I felt in South Africa was the best chance we had had since 1966 to win the World Cup. That was my honest opinion. I really could see us winning it." - Harry Redknapp may maintain he is firmly focused on Tottenham but his interview with The Sun this morning feels somewhat like a manifesto for the national job.
FOREIGN VIEW: "This represents something enormous. [This was] something which appeared unrealisable before the competition began. I know we're not the best but we have a strength and force that animated our team." - Who else but Zambia coach Herve Renard, who steered his side to the most unlikely of tournament victories when they defeated Ivory Coast on penalties in the final of the African Cup of Nations on Sunday night.
COMING UP: We have comprehensive highlights from all of the weekend's Premier League encounters, as well as the top five goals from the weekend. Paul Parker brings us his latest column at lunch and we also unveil our Premier League Team of the Week.