Football: Suso interview
For all his faults, Rafa Benitez could clearly be pretty persuasive. Why else, when faced with a choice between Real Madrid or Liverpool, would a Spanish starlet who spoke no English opt for the latter? But that’s just what Benitez persuaded Jesus Joaquin Fernandez Saenz de la Torre, better known as Suso, to do in the summer of 2010, at the age of just 16.
“It was Rafa who signed me,” he explains. “We had a lot of Spanish people here and it was him who told me to trust him and to come here.” Just days later, though, Benitez was on his way out of Anfield – and the future looked decidedly uncertain for the promising attacking midfielder signed from Cadiz.
Two years of youth and reserve-team football followed, but this season the 18-year-old has been given his chance by Brendan Rodgers – who, as Suso points out more than once, really likes the club’s young players. Suso has played only a handful of games for the Reds, but recently signed a new five-year deal, confirming his key role in Liverpool’s cultural revolution under the former Swansea boss.
We recently caught up with the attacking midfielder, whose accented English carries just a hint of Scouse on certain words. As quickly becomes apparent, he loves life in the northwest.
Why did you choose Liverpool over one of the big Spanish clubs?
“I think the feeling of playing every game at Anfield was something different to Real Madrid or Barcelona. I signed a new contract a few weeks ago – I’m really happy and hopefully it will carry on like that.”
Was it hard to adjust to life in England at first?
“Oh yeah, yeah – it was a little bit difficult because it was a different culture, a different language. I didn’t speak English before, so it was really hard. But I came here to play football, so I tried to learn the English and adapt to the city really quickly.”
You’ve now had a taste of first-team action this year – what has that been like?
“The first game was away against Young Boys; three days later I played the second half against Manchester United and everything changed really quick. I’m playing now every game and starting every game except in the Premier League [though he has started five of Liverpool’s league games so far this season].”
What was it like walking out at Anfield for the first time?
“Well, I think it’s one of the best football stadiums in England, and maybe in the world. I think the support is brilliant as well, so I think it’s one of the best feelings ever.”
Were you expecting a first-team call-up?
“I didn’t expect it. I didn’t have the chance last season – but Brendan, he really likes the young players, and he’s giving us a chance and we are playing and doing well. So he keeps trusting us.”
Did he say he would be giving young players a chance when he joined?
“Yeah, at the beginning of the season he mentioned that he really likes the young players and he will give us the chance if we are working hard. As I say, he really likes the young players and three young players are starting every weekend for Liverpool – Nuri Sahin, me and Andre Wisdom. That’s important, and it’s nice for him to give the chance to three young players in a big team like Liverpool.”
What’s Rodgers like as a manager? Is Being: Liverpool accurate?
“He’s really nice. He’s more like a friend. He really likes the young players and he’ll try to help everyone, but especially the young players because he knows that we have to improve. I think he’s similar to a Spanish manager, so that’s really good for me.”
It’s been a tough start to the season, though…
“Yeah we didn’t start really good, but it’s a new manager with different ideas. Obviously it doesn’t work in a week, but now we are improving every day. It takes time for us to know him and what he wants, but now after a few months we are getting it – we are improving and playing really good football. Before the goals didn’t come. But now they are arriving, we are scoring and winning games.”
Who were your favourite players growing up?
“When I was young, I really liked Zidane, but now he’s not playing anymore. Messi and Cristiano are excellent players. But I will say Iniesta.”
And if you had to pick someone whose playing style is most like yours?
“I think the most similar is David Silva.”
Are you hoping to get a call-up to the main squad soon? You’ve played a few games at youth level for Spain...
“We played the U19 Euro Championship last summer and we won. It’s really important to play for your country, and if you’re playing for Liverpool – one of the best teams in the country – you have the chance to play for the full national side.”
Amit Katwala @amitkatwala
Suso was speaking at the launch of Need for Speed Most Wanted, out now for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, PC, iOS and Android