In January 2015, Suso travelled from Merseyside to Milan, signing for a struggling Rossoneri side for a measly €1.3 million compensation fee. His first half-season in Italy saw him make six appearances, one assist matched badly with one red card under the management of Pippo Inzaghi. The first half of the following season was even worse, as the Spaniard featured for just 55 minutes under the regime of new manager Sinisa Mihaljovic; an unused sub in 14 out of 16 games before being loaned out to Genoa. Gian Piero Gasperini, then manager of the Genovese outfit, had done wonders with another Milan winger, M’Baye Niang the season before, so the loan move seemed a more-than-logical decision for all parties.
From January to May, Suso featured for 1170 minutes spread across 19 fixtures. The roaming forward featured equally on the right wing and as a second striker behind the prolific Leonardo Pavoletti. Suso’s highlight reel, including a hattrick against lowly Frosinone, impressed new Milan coach Vincenzo Montella. Montella had been manager of Genoa’s rivals Sampdoria, sitting in the dugout as his side lost 3-0 to their neighbours at home, Suso himself netting a brace.
Suddenly, as the new season begun, more importance was thrust upon youth. Suso, signed for a compensation fee, amid a barrage of cheap deals and those past their peak, was finally more than a bit part player. He was indispensable, one of the keys to unlocking defences for a Milan side suddenly reinvigorated and full of youthful naivety and confidence.
It was fitting that Milan’s first game of the season and Suso’s first start was against Torino & Sinisa Mihaljovic. The manager who Suso believes didn’t like him had to watch Suso find his feet in a dramatic match which saw his return to San Siro end in a 3-2 defeat. “I trained well, maybe better than I am now, but I didn’t play and I didn’t understand why. There wasn’t an argument. He obviously didn’t like me, that’s it. We recently played Torino in the league and Coppa Italia in the space of a few days, and I said hello to all his staff who were here at Milan, but I didn’t see him.”
Suso had always been a creative enigma, but now with the backing of his club and the staff around him, Suso’s minutes almost trebled and his reputation in big games grew enormously. A sweet left foot strike against Napoli opened his season’s account whilst a smart switch across to Niang saw him add an assist too. Game-winning assists against both Sampdoria and Juventus saw his influence continue to grow whilst November saw four goals and two assists in just three games. Match-winning creative performances against the eventually relegated Palermo and Empoli sandwiched an impressive brace against Inter. December saw him assist Bonaventura’s flicked equaliser against Juventus in Doha and his converted penalty in the shootout meant he could lift the Super Coppa Italiana with pride and a deserved respect from his opponents.
From then on, his powers were brought into question. Niang’s transfer to Watford, Bacca’s complete lack of form and Bonaventura’s injury meant the creative burden was placed firmly on his left foot. The creativity and whipped crosses were still there but the end product from those around him had more than disappeared. Milan were slipping down the table, clutching on to a European place by the weakest grip of their fingers.
Suso himself saw injury worries slip into his own season, thigh muscular injuries in March slowed his progress but Montella’s confidence in the 23-year-old never waned and, despite setbacks, Suso still came up with big moments. He scored a late equaliser against Lazio and assisted an even later opening goal against Inter to spark the most dramatic of comebacks. The former brought praise from Lazio manager Simone Inzaghi, brother of Pippo who gave Suso his first chance in the black and red colours of Milan, “Milan have great players, we couldn’t make it 2-0 and Suso equalised at the end. We had three [players] on Suso, but we were afraid of fouling him. We gave Suso that half a metre and he was lethal.”
Suso was brought in alongside the likes of Alessio Cerci and Mattia Destro. Signed during the Berlusconi and Galliani years of free transfers and desperate loan deals, Suso has made himself a mainstay in the first team. It is a glowing testament to his talent that, despite signing for just a compensation fee and gaining next to no opportunities for the first two seasons, he is one of the few players this summer not to be replaced by Milan’s new financially backed regime. There is a famous Spanish saying which perfectly depicts the journey of Suso. “A mal tiempo, buena cara;” in bad times, a face held high.
By: Elliott Martin/@ElliottM95