Former Liverpool midfielder SUSO on training with a teenage Martin Odegaard, his scouse 'family' and winning two Europa Leagues with Sevilla ahead of Champions League clash with Arsenal
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Former Liverpool midfielder SUSO on training with a teenage Martin Odegaard, his scouse 'family' and winning two Europa Leagues with Sevilla ahead of Champions League clash with Arsenal

Oct 24, 2023

There will be a reunion of sorts on Tuesday between Martin Odegaard and Suso when Sevilla host Arsenal in the Champions League.

The two trained together at Liverpool back when the Spain international was part of Rafa Benitez’ Spanish revolution, and the Norwegian was a 15-year-old prodigy trying out various clubs before opting to join Real Madrid in January 2015.

‘‘It was that era when everyone wanted him. He was with us for about a week,’ says the Sevilla winger ahead of tonight’s meeting.

‘He stood out because, like now, he had that shock of blond hair and he was a leftie. I’m left-footed so I notice the left-footers more. You could see he had a lot of talent.’

Suso was a 21-year-old at the time struggling to get used to Jamie Carragher’s scouse accent and being called so early to the dinner table by his ‘Livepool family’ with whom he is still in regular contact.

Suso has won two Europa League titles with La Liga side Sevilla since joining from AC Milan

Suso has won two Europa League titles with La Liga side Sevilla since joining from AC Milan 

Martin Odegaard trained with Suso at Liverpool, before joining Spanish giants Real Madrid

Martin Odegaard trained with Suso at Liverpool, before joining Spanish giants Real Madrid

Suso joined Liverpool at 16 under Spaniard Rafa Benitez but left to join Serie A side AC Milan

Suso joined Liverpool at 16 under Spaniard Rafa Benitez but left to join Serie A side AC Milan

The two players’ paths have not crossed since, until now. Odegaard barely played at Madrid but has flourished at Arsenal where he is now captain.

Suso’s arrival at Liverpool came not long before Benitez’ departure and in the end it was Milan where he really came of age before winning two Europa Leagues at Sevilla.

He has fond memories of Liverpool despite it being a mere launch pad to success in Italy and Spain.

‘I was only 16 years-old when I joined and I had the option to live with an English family of someone who worked for the club, or to go with a member of my own family and get my own place.

‘We asked Rafa what was best and he said that to adapt to the culture and learn the language it was better to live with an English family.

‘They were brilliant with me. It was a mum and dad Dee and Phil, and they had three sons, Simon, Robert and Paul. The youngest was my age and the other two were a bit older.

‘They were a lovely family. It’s true that on the first few days when dinner was served at 7pm they had to explain to me: yes, it’s time to go down and eat now.

‘I ended up telling them that I couldn’t eat that early! That they save some for me and I would reheat it later but at first it was difficult, it was a different culture.

‘I’m still in contact with the sons and we spoke ahead of the game against Manchester United in the Europa League last season. I was able to get them tickets and we met up. They were like my second family. They really looked after me.’

Dani Pacheco, Francis Duran, Antonio Barragan and Mikel San Jose were the other young Spanish imports who arrived to bolster a senior armada in which Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fernando Torres had earlier arrived.

Suso scored the equaliser in Manchester United's 2-1 loss to Sevilla in the 2020 Europa League

Suso scored the equaliser in Manchester United’s 2-1 loss to Sevilla in the 2020 Europa League

Suso scored 27 goals and clocked up 31 assists in 145 games in Serie A before Julen Lopetegui signed him for Sevilla.

Suso scored 27 goals and clocked up 31 assists in 145 games in Serie A before Julen Lopetegui signed him for Sevilla.

Suso, now with Spain caps and European trophies to his name, has had the best career of that younger group.

But it wasn’t easy moving so far from home as a teenager. ‘I got on really well with Jose Enrique and also with Luis Suarez’ he says. ‘They always tried to help me, and protect me a little bit.

‘It was a time when young players in Spain who were not getting the opportunities at home could go to England and play the Carling Cup, the FA Cup, so as a project and with the football culture there, it appealed to me.

‘The chance to play in Spain would always be there but the Liverpool opportunity was once in a lifetime.’

He had no English at first and admits Benitez used to get annoyed with the Spanish lads if after training, or at breakfast, they sat together. ‘He used to say: “no, not together, not speaking Spanish”,’ Suso recalls.

Did conversing with his host family at least help him understand his team-mates? 

‘[Steven] Gerrard a bit, but Carragher, he’s incredible eh! I saw an interview he did with Leao from Inter the other day and Leao struggles to understand anything he says.

‘It’s incredible to see how inside the same city there can be so much difference. It would be the same for an English lad trying to understand Spanish in my town (Cadiz).

‘Brendan [Rodgers] did talk to me in Spanish because he liked to learn it, that helped me a lot.’

Despite Benitez departing soon after Suso arrived he still progressed. He trained with the first team under Roy Hodgson and debuted with Rodgers.

If he has a regret it’s that he did not stay long enough to play for Jurgen Klopp.

The Spanish international won two Europa League's in Spain and is a regular in the La Liga side

The Spanish international won two Europa League’s in Spain and is a regular in the La Liga side 

He joined when Rafa Benitez was signing many young Spanish players during his tenure

He joined when Rafa Benitez was signing many young Spanish players during his tenure

Adriano Galliani made him part of Milan’s rejuvenation project before the German arrived at Liverpool.

‘I would have liked to work with Klopp,’ he says. ‘Look how he changed Liverpool – they went from being a good team to being a very good team, one of the best in the world.’

He says he always follows Liverpool’s fortunes closely, as he does with Milan where he says he was ‘contentissimo’ scoring twice in his first Milan derby.

‘The derby is special because it’s the same stadium for both teams but when you are the home team you go out and it’s all red and when you are the away team you go out and it’s all blue. And you are ‘away’ but you are in your own dressing room because there are three at the San Siro – one for Milan, one for Inter and one for visiting teams.’

Suso scored 27 goals and clocked up 31 assists in 145 games in Serie A before Julen Lopetegui, who had given him his Spain debut, signed him for Sevilla.

He arrived in January 2020 and within six months he had won the Europa League, scoring against Manchester United in the semi-final.

Cue the calls from his English ‘brothers’ Simon, Robert and Paul.

‘Yes, I had a lot of messages,’ he smiles. ‘There were a lot of people from Liverpool who were delighted, and it happened again in the last Europa League when lots of people from Liverpool wrote to me [after Sevilla knocked out United].’

Mikel Arteta hope Sevilla's European success will not translate to the Champions League

Mikel Arteta hope Sevilla’s European success will not translate to the Champions League

RC Lens beat Arsenal in their last time out in the Champions League, and Sevilla drew with PSV

RC Lens beat Arsenal in their last time out in the Champions League, and Sevilla drew with PSV

This season the Europa League is where Sevilla don’t really want to be. They have started with two draws against Lens and PSV Eindhoven and need a win against Arsenal to stay on course for qualification under new coach Diego Alonso, Sevilla’s 10thmanager in a decade.

He knows it will not be easy against a team, led by that 15-year-old Norwegian prodigy he trained with almost a decade ago.

‘I think they’re one of the main candidates [to win the Champions League],’ he says.

‘Because they are playing so well and they have a coach who learned from the best and is now showing just how good he is.’

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