888.com has done what Arsenal FC and £40,000,001 couldn’t: the online poker room has secured the signature of Luis Suarez on a contract that will see the controversial but ultimately magnificent footballer become the site’s new global brand ambassador.
Fresh from a blistering season at Liverpool, in which he scored 31 goals, sometimes single-handedly, and came within a whisker of winning the Premier League, the Uruguayan was present at a press conference in Spain last week where it was announced he would “immediately become an integral member of Team 888poker and will be found playing regularly online at 888poker and will participate in live events and ‘money-can’t-buy experiences’.”
He is described by 888.com as a “keen [poker] enthusiast who has played the game for many years.”
In some ways it’s a risky choice for 888.com. While Suarez’s ability has never been in doubt – earlier this year he was ranked as the world’s best footballer by caughtoffside.com, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – his career has been constantly blighted by controversy and bad publicity.
He arrived in England to play for Liverpool in 2010, having already been cast as a villain following an unapologetic handball incident at the World Cup in South Africa, which many believed cost Uruguay’s popular opponents, Ghana, a place in the semi-finals.
While he impressed in his first season at Liverpool as a creative and skillful goal-scorer, he did little to cast off the label of cheat which had dogged him from the previous summer, earning instead a reputation as a prolific diver in the opposition’s penalty box.
The following season he waded into more hot water when he was accused of racially abusing Patrice Evra during a game against Manchester United. Suarez received an eight-game ban for the incident. He vehemently denied his guilt, though, and it perhaps should be noted that he is mixed race, with a black grandfather.
His culpability was more clear-cut during the 2012-13 season, however, where he clearly sunk his teeth into an opponent in a match against Chelsea. This was the second incident in which Suarez had been reprimanded for biting, and he received a ten-game ban for violent conduct.
From Another Planet?
In the 2013-14, just finished, however, Suarez truly went from strength to strength, playing what some commentators described as “football from another planet” – and he stayed largely out of trouble too, allowing his unique ability and passion for the game to do the talking.
Clearly, it is this spirit that 888.com is seeking to channel, rather than his somewhat wonky approach to sportsmanship and fair play.
The senior vice president of 888, Itai Pazner, had this to say: “Luis Suarez is an incredible sporting talent; passionate, competitive, technically gifted, and emotionally invested in the game. It’s those qualities that make him an exciting player to watch, in poker as well as football. It’s fantastic to have him on board.”
Suarez joins cricketer Shane Warne and UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre on the site’s team of sporting ambassadors. And as well as representing 888.com this summer, Suarez will also be representing Uruguay in the impending World Cup. Now, play nicely, Luis.