Is Liverpool's Champions League return damaging the club?

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The Liverpool career of Suso would appear as though it is close to reaching its conclusion. It is claimed the young Spaniard has a pre-contract agreement with AC Milan and will move to the San Siro either in January or next summer.

Suso will reportedly sign a four-year deal with Milan that will see him earn €1.5 million-per-year over its duration, and he will move to Italy on a free transfer when his contract expires at the end of the season unless a transfer can be negotiated for the winter window.

While a proposed switch to Milan will represent a positive step in Suso’s fledgling professional life as he bids to establish himself at a club of repute, it is something of a shame for Liverpool and all those who put faith in him.

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Suso departure

Allowing Suso to leave is not a decision Liverpool will have taken lightly, with the player well liked by manager Brendan Rodgers. But it is a move they will feel obliged to sanction in order to allow Suso to flourish, given that there is no longer room for him at Anfield.

But what went wrong with Suso? He arrived at Liverpool aged only 16 but it was a capture heralded almost as fervently as any big transfer deal, with the club able to beat Real Madrid to his coveted signature following an 11th hour intervention from Rafa Benitez.

Raheem Sterling has been able to emerge as the poster boy for those aspiring to graduate from the Liverpool academy and into the club’s first-team, but it really ought to have been Suso who left a lasting impact.

This is not to suggest Suso was not afforded his opportunities in the senior set-up, with the now 20-year-old attacking midfielder having made 14 appearances in the Premier League during Rodgers’ maiden campaign.

Fruitful loan spell

He performed competently enough but was only 18 at the start of that season and, once it had ended, the decision was taken to allow him to move on loan in order to enhance his skill-set. La Liga was the destination, with Almeria his club. Suso scored three times and provided a further seven goals in 33 league appearances.

By mid-November he had already registered five assists in La Liga, at that time a total superior to Lionel Messi, and there was a real sense of optimism about what he could achieve during this temporary spell away from Merseyside.

Things slowed down somewhat as Almeria endured a dip in form and they were able to avoid relegation by only a single point by the end of the season. But Suso’s contribution impressed Rodgers, who described the loan as ‘terrific’ for the young player.

Suso had hoped a return to Champions League football for the club would result in the potential for more opportunities over the course of this campaign, as Rodgers looked to rotate his options in order to maintain freshness.

Path blocked

But it would appear that Liverpool’s position at the top table of European football is proving detrimental to the prospects of the players they have produced, rather than offering them opportunities at the top level.

In the case of Suso, the requirement to reinforce in order to cope with the demands of continental competition has resulted in his path to the first-team becoming increasingly congested. He was already swimming against tide created by Philippe Coutinho and Sterling, while has been practically drowned by the acquisitions of Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic.

Conor Coady and Jack Robinson, both esteemed graduates from Liverpool’s youth system and local lads held in high affection, were also deemed surplus to requirements after Rodgers mounted an unprecedented period of spending. It is a trend that will concern some.

There have also been loan spells for Andre Wisdom and Jordan Ibe. These, of course, will be experiences that will benefit both greatly, but in the case of Wisdom at least there is sense that his departure is becoming somewhat inevitable.

'Scouse heart'

This is not to say the manager does not have a dedication to bring young players into the first-team. He has spoken in the past of the importance of having a ‘Scouse heart’ to his squad but, at the moment at least, that is diminishing.

Steven Gerrard and Jon Flanagan were the only established Liverpudlians at Anfield until the summer arrival of Rickie Lambert, and there is a danger of the team steadily losing its identity unless more opportunities are provided.

Rodgers is a manager willing to put his faith in youth, of that there is no question, but since his arrival at the club only Sterling and Flanagan have become regular first-team members. With the manager now in his third season, it is not exactly the most impressive of records.

There is, of course, the argument that “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” and perhaps there is something of a dearth of talent in the ranks capable of making the step up to the first XI. But, either way, Liverpool’s place in the Champions League and the significant investment in player recruitment as a result will not help matters.

A return to top level European competition after a five year absence is an important moment for the club but, as the departures of Suso and others demonstrate, it will, for the time being at least, extinguish rather than enhance the outlook of many of their most well regarded young talents.

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