FROM BEING SURPLUS TO REQUIREMENTS AT LIVERPOOL TO BEING STRONGLY LINKED WITH REAL MADRID, SUSO’S CAREER TRAJECTORY IS ON THE UP. CIRO DI BRITA PROFILES MILAN’S LITTLE GEM.
Jesus Joaquin Fernandez Saenz de la Torre, better known as Suso, is the 25-year-old diminutive, explosive winger plying his trade for sleeping Italian giants Milan. From being on the fringes at Liverpool when he arrived as a small and slight teenager to being talked up as a transfer target for consecutive Champions League winners Real Madrid, the Spaniard’s stock has risen hugely over the past 18 months. But what does that mean for his time at San Siro? Is it coming to an end, or has it only just begun?
Suso joined the Anfield side from boyhood club Cadiz in 2010 and went straight into the Liverpool academy, where he continued his footballing education before signing his first professional contract when he turned 17 a few months later.
In 2012 he made his debut for the Reds in a Europa League tie against Young Boys of Bern and impressed manager Brendan Rodgers so much that he would go on to make his Premier League debut three days later at home against Manchester United.
Suso would end up featuring 20 times in total in all competitions that season as the Reds finished a disappointing seventh in the table while also going out early in the Cups.
In the summer of 2013 Suso joined Andalusian side Almeria on a season’s long loan deal from his parent club Liverpool. With the Merseyside club signing the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho to bolster the forward positions of a goal-shy side, game time would have been at a premium for the youngster. In a period when his burgeoning talent was just beginning to blossom it was important that he found himself a club where he could be certain of getting minutes on the field.
In a tough but fruitful year back in Spain he made 35 appearances in total in all competitions while finding the back of the net three times. The highlight came when he scored the winner in a 2-1 win away at Espanyol which started off of a run of three wins in row that pushed the Rojiblancos out of the relegation zone and ensured their stay in La Liga.
On his return from loan to Liverpool, Suso arrived at a club that had just narrowly missed out on winning their first League title in 25 years and it appeared there would still be no place in a line-up that include Coutinho, Sturridge and Luis Suarez. One appearance in the League Cup against Middlesbrough, which saw him score in extra time and force the tie to go to penalties, was all he got in a six-month period.
Once again, the young Spaniard had to go in search of a new club where he could realistically fight for space on the pitch. He was tipped to join Milan once his contract expired in July of 2015 but instead he arrived early at the San Siro in January of 2015, signing a four-year deal with the Rossoneri paying out €1.3m in compensation to the Premier League side. Two weeks later he made his debut, coming on for the last 10 minutes in a Coppa Italia loss to Lazio, and he would have to wait until April to get his first taste of Serie A action.
With a new Coach taking the hot seat at the Giuseppe Meazza, Suso found himself outside of new boss Sinisa Mihajlovic’s plans and featured just twice in the first half of the 2015-16 season. He joined Ligurian outfit Genoa in January 2016 and under
Gian Piero Gasperini’s tutelage he began to shine and show off his dribbling technique and ability to find space between the lines, cut inside and let fly with his left foot, more than once evoking the style of Dutch wizard Arjen Robben. A stunning left footed hat-trick against Frosinone in April was accompanied by two goals in the 3-0 derby win over rivals Sampdoria in May, making the winger one of the hot topics in Italy that spring.
RETURN TO MILAN
With Mihajlovic gone and yet another trainer in Vincenzo Montella installed as the new Coach of Milan, Suso returned to Milanello and set about winning himself a starting role in the new look side. After an impressive pre-season he soon made the right wing role his own and scored his first goal for Milan in a 4-2 loss to Napoli in the San Paolo. A brace in the Derby della Madonnina in a 2-2 draw with Inter was his personal highlight of the 20162017 season, where he featured 37 times in all competitions while hitting the back of the net on seven occasions in Serie A.
Suso also made an impression at international level in 2017. Having played for Spain at every age group from Under-17, including starring in the European Under-19 Championships in 2012 as Spain won the trophy, he made his senior bow in a November 2017 friendly with Russia. Unfortunately for Suso, Montella was shown the door the same month and Gennaro Gattuso was installed in his place. Montella had been happy to give the Spaniard more of a free role and relied on him to stay high up the pitch while out of possession. More upheaval didn’t bode well for the midfielder. Suso need not have worried. It’s been under Gattuso’s mentorship that the boy from Cadiz has finally shown the best of his technical ability. In Gattuso’s first year in charge, Suso scored seven goals, claimed 16 assists and showed he can fulfil his defensive duties too. It’s no exaggeration to say Suso has become one of the first names on Gattuso’s team sheet as Milan fight for a Champions League place.
Suso signed a contract extension at Milan in September 2017, tying him to the club until 2020. But the deal contains a clause that has fuelled the reports of interest from Madrid, as a bid of €38m would allow Suso to speak with any club outside of Italy, although only in the first two weeks of July. Milan have made noises about renewing the contract and removing the foreign clubs clause altogether, but with Madrid in a state of flux after the brief tenure of Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari keen to stamp his authority on the squad, Los Blancos could still test Milan’s resolve in January. Milan would receive a hefty fee for Suso’s services, but at what cost to their Champions League aspirations?
‘Suso’s stockhas risen hugely over the past 18months’ ABOVE:He made a good early impression at Milan but needed a loan at Genoa to prove himselfLEFT:Suso got few chances at Liverpool and had to move on to progress in his career
The Spain international could though be tempted by La Liga giantsReal Madrid
Regular coaching changes didn’t help Suso’s development but Gennaro Gattuso has providedstability