When Suso arrived in Italy to sign for Milan, in January 2015, there were no fans or journalists at Malpensa airport to greet him. He was a virtual stranger, a low-key signing for a club that were no longer able to reach the heights of previous decades.
The Spaniard cost Milan £1m and arrived in Italy having spent the previous four and a half years at Liverpool, a spell that included 21 first-team appearances and one goal, as well as a loan spell at Almería.
It was not the signing the Milan fans had hoped for but three years later the Spaniard, now 24, is someone they do not want to lose. Suso has developed into an outstanding player, one of the best in Serie A, and he has hopes of going to the World Cup.
He is a different player – and a different person – to the one that arrived in Italy and the transformation has been such that even he sometimes needs to stop to take it all in. “So much has changed. When I arrived here it wasn’t easy: I didn’t play a lot and I had to go to Genoa on loan in order to play.
“Milan was always my dream: when I was a kid I watched the great players who wore the shirt and now to be playing here is incredible. I am proud to be able to play for Milan and one day I’ll be able to tell my son: ‘Your father played for Milan.’”
The Rossoneri have undergone huge changes in the past few years, being taken over by Li Yonghong in April last year and investing €230m in players last summer. Despite that, they struggled initially and it was only after Gennaro Gattuso took over from Vincenzo Montella as manager in November that the team climbed the table.
They are now sixth in Serie A, 11 points behind fourth-placed Lazio. They lost the Coppa Italia final against Juventus 4-0 but at last there are signs that they are about to recapture their former glories.“It hasn’t been an easy season,”
Suso says. “There were a lot of expectations on us but we did not start well. After Gattuso took over everything improved and we are working hard to qualify for Europe.
“The club changed a lot in the last year and invested heavily in players. It’s never easy when there is such a big change. Compared with the start of the year we have improved a lot. And, importantly, there are a lot of young players at Milan at the moment, which is another reason we need time. But we are on the right path.”
Suso and his team-mates have benefited from working with Gattuso, a fiery character who had mixed results as a manager before taking charge of Milan’s first team. The former Milan, Rangers and Italy midfielder had been in charge of Sion (as player-manager), Palermo, Crete and Pisa before returning to Milan to take over the primavera side, as Italian youth teams are known.
Partly because of the kind of player he was, Gattuso has earned a reputation for being a great motivator but there have been questions about his tactical nous. Suso, however, paints a picture of a manager who is able to motivate, challenge and improve players.“He is very impressive,”
he says. “He works 24 hours a day and only thinks about football. He likes the work, he likes all of it: after many years without playing in Europe we see the light with him. I’m certain he will be a great manager.
“He has not been with us for a long time but he has already left a significant mark. Also, his charisma isn’t everything. He is good tactically, in attack and defence. He also knows how to talk to players, he always gets his point across and how a manager communicates with his players is fundamental.”
Suso’s form for Milan has led to speculation that he could search for Champions League football but he is in no rush to leave the team that have made him a star. “I’m very happy at Milan,”
he says. “Always when there are rumours about me leaving I reiterate that I am happy here and I think the club is with me. I have a release clause [€40m] and that was something both the club and my agent wanted. If the club wants to continue to be among the top sides and count on me then I am here for them.”
Suso, born in Cádiz in south-west Spain, was scouted by Liverpool when on international duty for Spain Under-17s and left home for England as a 16-year-old. Although he was happy at Anfield, he admits that it was a big step to take at such a young age. “In a sense I became a man before I became a footballer. It was very hard with the lifestyle and language.
“But to this day I remember everything. I did not play that much but I got to know Steven Gerrard and be a team-mate of players such as Luis Súarez, Philippe Coutinho and Jamie Carragher. I’ll never forget my experience at Liverpool.
“Premier League football is different, I would call it special: I would like to play for Liverpool again some day. I grew up there and it is a big club.”
His former club are taking on Real Madrid in Kiev in the Champions League final on Saturday and for Suso it will be a strange evening. “My heart is torn: if Real Madrid win it will make me happy because it is a Spanish team winning but then if Liverpool win I will be equally happy because it is my former club.”
The Champions League is a competition the young Spaniard dreams about, having been close to playing in it when at Liverpool. He was selected in the starting XI against Basel in 2014 – only to suffer an injury in the warm-up. But he is confident he will be back. “This is an important moment in my career and next year will be even more important. I feel like I am only at 60-70% of what I can achieve.”https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/may/20/suso-milan-interview-what-i-can-achieve-liverpool
Very good player, and you can't go wrong with £35m release clause, but unfortantely, I don't think he is the right fit for Klopp.