Suso has given a very long and interesting interview to SportWeek, saying ‘if someone criticizes me, then it is because they expect me to do even more and because they know I can do it. If a player is not criticized it is because he is not expected to do anything’.
Milan have been struggling greatly since the start of the season: after 11 games in Serie A, they sit in 12th place with just 13 points, already losing six times.
One of the players who gets the most heat from the fans is without a doubt Suso. The Spaniard has not played up to his usual level so far and many believe that he should be dropped from the XI of Stefano Pioli. After missing the Lazio game through injury, however, Suso is set to start against league leaders and Champions Juventus tomorrow at the Allianz Stadium (20:45 CET kickoff).
The former Liverpool man spoke to Fabrizio Salvio of SportWeek – La Gazzetta dello Sport’s weekend magazine – to discuss many things at length. You can read the fully-translated interview below:
After the defeat against Roma two weeks ago, Pioli said a very serious sentence: “It seems that winning, drawing or losing does not make any difference”. Obviously it didn’t succeed. Have you resigned yourself to mediocrity or, within yourself, are you aware that you can’t give more?
“On the contrary. We know that we have to give more for Milan, for its history and for its fans. We are going through a negative moment, we are aware of it but we work hard every day to try to get out of it. We are Milan and mediocrity, in a club like this, cannot be accepted.”
Before SPAL, you played badly against Lecce and Roma. Are you beginning to feel the weight of pressure and criticism?
“I’m the first one to not be satisfied with my performances, but it’s not a question of pressure or criticism. Fans have the right to criticize. I wrote on Instagram after SPAL: a goal does not change history. It does not erase the whistles, which are merited, or the criticisms, which are right. It’s a moment in time when I can’t express myself at my level but I’m sure you’ll soon see the best Suso. Trust me.”
Tomorrow you face Juve: except for Ronaldo, who would you remove from the Bianconeri?
“It’s difficult to choose from a wide and very high-quality squad. If I’m really forced, I’d say Pjanić, he’s a complete midfielder and ideal for the game of Sarri.”
At Milan, you are being asked to take responsibility. Do you think that you’ve done it, and completely?
“I think that the strong players have to take responsibility, those from whom people expect to make a difference, more and better than the others. For me it’s not a problem. If they ask me ‘do you want to take responsibility?’ then I say ‘yes’. I think I did very well even in difficult situations for the team, but I repeat: I know that these first Matchdays of the season have not been positive for me or for all of Milan.”
You are considered the technical leader of the team: can you also become the emotional leader?
“For me, you are a leader on the pitch. Whatever you shout in the locker room or do as a group is something else.”
And what is it like to be a leader on the pitch?
“Helping your teammate, making a difference, scoring a goal, serving an assist or making a play that will decide the game or help the team overcome a moment of difficulty.”
In recent years, Milan has relied on you, on your game. Do you think you earned it all the way and if it gave you pressure?
“Each team has its strong point, which possesses different characteristics than others. If Milan go more from the right, as I hear, then I didn’t decide it. Pressures…? The more you grow, the stronger you become, and the more pressure and responsibility increase. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, on the contrary: if the coach and the team rely on you then it means that you are doing your job well.”
It’s always said that a player matures completely around the age of 25-26: you’re there, now. What are you missing for the ultimate leap in quality?
“There is no point where one can say ‘I have arrived’. You can always improve. Sometimes it depends on the year. It’s true that it recent times we’ve had changes in ownership that have impacted on the mental level, but now with Elliott we are calm. So I’m sure that we can do well: we have all the characteristics to succeed. Sometimes it’s just a matter of time, even if there’s never any in the big teams. But we’re on the right track and with the new coach things will get better.”
This interview takes place in the so-called Sala del Camino room of Milanello [the fireplace room]. On the walls, photos of the many Rossoneri successes: when you look at them, do you feel the history of this club, the weight of its traditions, of its victories? One thing that the Milan players are accused of is not feeling the importance of the shirt they wear…
“We all know the history of Milan, of the players who made it great. Obviously, there are different times and players. On the walls of this room there’s Sacchi’s Milan, which was the best team in the world. Getting to that level is very difficult. We’re a young group, aware of the need to grow. People have behaved very well so far, showing a lot of patience. Last year we got one point away from the Champions League, you can’t say that we did badly. This season we started badly, but there is time to recover. I really like being here. I could have left for two years in a row, and I didn’t. I stayed here because I wanted to. I cost zero: for having cost nothing I think my performances at Milan have been very good. So, if you ask me if I’m happy with what I have given then I’ll tell you: yes, very much.”
Well, do you feel the weight of this shirt?
“Yes, in the sense that I understand what it means to play for Milan and in a stadium like San Siro, the most beautiful in Italy. When I enter the field, I look at the stands which are so high and imposing, the gates with the windows behind… it strikes me today as when, as a kid, I just saw San Siro on the television.”
Last year, you were one of the best in Europe in terms of assists and scoring chances, for a period even better than Messi. Yet, on social media, you represent the per-excellent divisive player. Is it something you’re sorry about, does it leave you indifferent or does it encourage you to give your best to make the naysayers change their minds?
“The fact is, I don’t have to prove anything. People know what I can do. If someone criticizes me, then it’s because they expect me to do even more and because they know I can do it. If a player is not criticized it’s because he’s not expected to do anything. Cristiano Ronaldo has been criticized, Messi is criticized when playing for Argentina, and we are talking about two of the best players in the history. If I have to say whether I like being criticized then I say ‘no’, nobody likes it, but it’s something that exists in football. I just don’t understand those who insult at the stadium. It’s not right to offend those who are doing their job, but I realize that those who pay for the ticket can say what they want.”
On you, the whistles or the insults at the stadium, what effect do they have?
“They don’t dismantle me. I work with my head to stay focused on the game. I keep trying my moves because if I don’t try them then they’ll never succeed. But if I just succeed in one then it’s a goal or an assist.”
You play in one position and with one formation, the 4-3-3. Is that true?
“I’ll tell you one thing: up until the first league match, in Udine, I could’ve played as a trequartista for everyone… They said that Giampaolo had transformed me, that I was demonstrating that I could do that role and so on. Then, one bad game was enough, one defeat, and everything came down.”
“Ah, I don’t know. Must have been for tactical or psychological reasons. But it didn’t come from me. In that position, in the middle behind the strikers, I can be. In the summer we played against Bayern Munich and Manchester United and I did every well. Obviously, I like being on the right more, but I have no problem playing inside the pitch.”
Another accusation: you only play with your left foot. Is it true or not?
“And what about the right cross for Çalhanoğlu against Brescia, after reaching the end of the field instead of cutting inside…? And the goal in the derby three years ago, with the brace, dribbling past Miranda in the box and the right-footer to the far post..? However, if I can free myself and kick with my left, why would I have to go to my right…?”
You play very well for three months and then disappear…
“That’s because in November-December I start suffering from pubalgia. This year I started to feel bad regarding my adductor already in mid-September, I didn’t play against Lazio for the same reason. It’s a problem that comes back to me every year and that cannot be solved.”
What do you think you need to be able to improve?
“If I knew, I would have already done so.”
For example, learning to cut from the wing into the box. Gattuso always reproached you for not closing on the second post on crosses, like Callejon does…
“True, but he’s number one in the world in this. I can improve in this type of movement, but each has his own characteristics.”
What has Pioli asked of you?
“More important than what he said, it’s the kind of work that we’re doing with him. Everything with the ball, as I like it, as I was used to with the Spanish national team. Possession, inner-training matches. We did it before too, but not with this frequency and intensity. For me it’s a pleasant novelty.”
After the win over Genoa, you wrote on Instagram: ‘We are aware that to come back to the top, it takes more, much more’. What does it take?
“So many things, including a bit of luck. Against Torino, for example, if we scored the second goal on one of the many opportunities we had, it would’ve changed the game and maybe not just that. Instead, they scored two goals in five minutes and we lost.”
Why does this team break down as soon as they concede, as happened against Fiorentina at home? On that occasion, the fans literally turned their backs on you, leaving San Siro before the time was up…
“We came off the defeat against Torino. After 10 minutes we conceded a penalty and it comes naturally to you to think: ‘Again…? We are behind once again..?’ at the mental level, you’re bound to feel the effects.”
You and Milano: do you feel it’s yours?
“Yes. I like everything. From the airport to the restaurants, to the people, through the new CityLife district where I’m going to live soon.”
In this moment, what do you feel like telling the fans?
“To continue to have patience, supporting the team. I don’t it’s not easy but we’ll be able to reserve the trend.”
And what about you?
“I ask them to trust me. I play for Milan and I support Milan. Until the last Matchday I’ll give everything.”
On Instagram, you posted a photo with your son Alessio sitting between your wife Alis and you, smiling at him while holding in one hand images of an ultrasound showing a fetus a few weeks old…
“To tell the truth: Alessio was wanted and looked for; the second was an unexpected gift. The morning after the game against Torino I wake up and Alis, next to me, says to me: ‘I think I am pregnant’.”
Since you’ve become a father, what did you learn about yourself that didn’t know?
“On November 10, Alessio turns one-year-old. His birth opened up a world to me. Before, I was only focused on football, there was nothing else in my head. Today, I’m a much happier man, also because I’m learning things that I didn’t know existed.”
“For example, the joy of seeing a child take its first steps. More generally, I discovered the ability to detach from football. Before, in my head, I also carried the ball home. Now, when I open the door and see Alessio coming to see me, I take it off completely, I disconnect. He exists and that’s it.”
Have you already found out if he’s left-handed like you?
“Not yet, also because in the two times that I threw a ball at him, he left it there…”
It must have been a pain for you…
“No… it’s better this way [laughs].”
Is there one thing, only one, which you struggled to give up after the birth of Alessio?
“I obviously have less free time than before, I have to organize in detail every small family transfer. Getting around is not as easy as before. Now, after every trip, I don’t want to do another one before it’s been two months.”
Why Alessio, an Italian name?
“Because he was born here and I thought it was right. In the future we’ll return to live in Spain and it’ll be nice for Alessio to keep something of the country in which he came into the world.”