When Suso returned to Liverpool’s Melwood training ground at the end of his loan spell at La Liga’s Almeria, he could have been forgiven for thinking that he was in the wrong place.
The Liverpool that the young Spaniard left at the tail end of 2012/13 was completely different to the one he’s come back to now.
Where once there was uncertainty and hope, there is now dynamism and belief. The Reds didn’t win the Premier League title but the mere fact that they came so close has seemingly changed the entire atmosphere around the club. “Going again” hasn’t just become a saying or a hashtag, it is genuinely what they expect to do.
Suso surely couldn’t help but wonder what would have become of him had he stayed at Anfield rather than return home for a year, especially given the rapid progress of his fellow youngsters such as Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan.
The notion of the loan system is a very good one for the most part, as it allows a young player to go away and get some valuable experience—which is certainly what Suso got in an Almeria side for whom he played 33 games as they escaped relegation by a point. However, Brendan Rodgers must hope that the players he sent out last year buck a trend previously set at the club by the likes of Dani Pacheco, Daniel Ayala, and even more established players like Andy Carroll, Jay Spearing and Joe Cole.
It isn’t beyond the realms of possibility to imagine both playing a part in a Liverpool squad which has the extra demands of Champions League football to face up to in 2013/14, but Suso? Despite the 20-year-old’s clear quality, his future looks less certain.
The hiring of former Spain under-19, -20 and -21 coach Julen Lopetegui at FC Porto has somewhat unsurprisingly led to Suso—one of the coaches’ shining lights in those teams—being linked with a move there, as seen here in The Independent.
If he does have to leave, it would certainly make for a refreshing change to see a highly rated Liverpool youngster end up at a big club such as the Portuguese giants and not almost fade from view entirely like Pacheco, Ayala, Adam Hammill and plenty of others, but then Suso has always been different.
He was thrown into the team by Rodgers in 2012/13 largely because of a lack of other options, but from the moment he came on for his Premier League debut for a 10-man Reds side against Manchester United, shimmied past Paul Scholes and put in a cross which ultimately helped lead to a Steven Gerrard goal, the supporters were on his side.
He showed some excellent touches during those few months in the team, before being taken out of the firing line along with Sterling in the latter half of the season following the arrivals of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho.
That Liverpool team was very different to this one though, both in personnel and playing style.
Under this new, still-learning Rodgers, the emphasis has moved away from the Spanish-style possession game and seemed to take on a more Germanic, powerful quality. Would it be too simplistic to state that Suso could be a casualty of that as the German under-21 midfielder Emre Can—two months Suso’s junior—arrives at the club?
Perhaps, and you can certainly make a case for a Suso-type player to be given a place in the current team, with Coutinho probably the closest example of that. But then what happens if and when Liverpool sign the creative midfielder that they seem intent on chasing this summer and one that the fans seem to be demanding? Either Adam Lallana, Xherdan Shaqiri or A.N. Other?
Very few players have survived a second loan spell away from Liverpool, and so perhaps it would be in Suso’s best interests to move away from the club permanently to seek the first-team football he craves and so clearly deserves.
Could the decision to let him go be one that will come back to haunt Liverpool? Very much so, given the quality of the player, but this summer should be about the Reds taking advantage of what they did in the last year and building from a position of strength.
Suso wasn’t a part of establishing that strength, and unfortunately he might not be a part of the adventures to come, either.