By James McManus
Liverpool have welcomed a new breed of exciting young talent into the first-team squad this season and while Raheem Sterling may have earned rave reviews for his performances so far, it is Spanish starlet Suso who could yet be the most talented of the bunch.
The 18-year-old moved to Anfield from Cadiz back in 2009 – firstly on loan – until he signed professional terms on his 17th birthday in 2010, and credit must go to Rafa Benitez for spotting a player largely ignored up until that point by the national team’s youth sides.
Suso spoke of how close he came to not signing for the club earlier this year: “I was going to sign for Real Madrid but one day before it the phone rang and Rafael Benitez spoke to me. He convinced me that Liverpool was the club for me and after that I had to change my plans. I was going to come to Liverpool.”
At a time when belts are being tightened around Anfield and the coffers a darn sight emptier than they were just 18 months ago, new manager Brendan Rodgers, partly out of necessity, has had to place his faith in the club’s highly-thought of youth system and on a crop of emerging talent as a budget-saving measure.
The simple fact is that Suso is better than anything the club could have afforded to bring in instead this summer and, while frustrations may have been felt at Liverpool’s inability to compete financially with Clint Dempsey slipping out of their grasp, Suso has more than picked up the slack this term, repaying Rodgers despite the move initially being fraught with risk.
Comfortable in a number of roles while predominantly playing as part of the attacking triumvirate alongside both Luis Suarez and Sterling, his ability to drift in off the flank and glide past players is a key part of what is now termed ‘breaking lines’ in the opposition’s defence, while he can also pick a pass.
Liverpool have hardly been blessed with quality wide-men in recent years, with a whole swathe of failed strikers being hastily converted into wingers in an attempt to prolong their careers at the club, but now it seems that two of huge promise have come along in quick succession.
From relative obscurity, despite garnering attention for his reserve team displays in the past, Suso has become a key member of Rodgers revolution and the club are finally starting to reap the rewards for the infrastructure put in place by Benitez back in 2009 as a result of his radical overhaul of the youth systems in place at the time, with Spanish coaches Pep Segura and Rodolfo Borrell right at the forefront of that change.
In what represents something of a pivotal week for Rodgers, with a delicately placed Europa League group still to negotiate and a stuttering league campaign to contend with, Liverpoo face three games inside six days: at home to Anzhi, away to city rivals Everton and another home game against their manager’s former employers, Swansea.
Suso’s willingness to ask for the ball in tight spaces is absolutely vital to the success of the side’s 4-3-3 system, but there’s a growing maturity to his play as well, with the goal he laid off for Nuri Sahin in the 2-1 Capital One Cup victory over West Brom serving as a prime example of his rapid development.
Running with the ball at the heart of the Baggies back four, he jinked on to his favoured left foot just outside the area, but instead of electing to shoot as most young players would in such a position, he played in Oussama Assaidi outside of him, who in turn laid it across the box for Sahin to tap home to hand Liverpool the win.
Quique Gonzalez, Suso’s youth-team coach at Cadiz, exclusively told Goal.com back in 2009 that the player was an “extraordinary talent” and that Liverpool had signed a “jewel” and, on the evidence so far, it is easy to see why he was quick to praise him so highly.
After signing a new long-term contract at the club, Rodgers lauded him, stating: “At 18, he has demonstrated outstanding technical qualities but also shown very good temperament to play for such a prestigious club.”
While caution must be attached to hyping up such a precocious talent whose career is still only just beginning, the initial signs have been more than promising and, in Suso, the club have one of the most dangerous young players in the country worth not only keeping an eye on, but of placing their faith in for the long haul.
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