As Vicente Del Bosque announced the names of the players he had called up for the upcoming friendly against Panama, more or less every name listed made sense. That is except for one. Markel Susaeta [pictured, left] had been called up to represent Spain and opinion was immediately divided.
Described as the definition of consistency, not many dare question his talent but why him and not Isco who continues to inspire a resolute Malaga side? Called up at a time when Athletic Bilbao are stuttering both domestically and in the Europa League, Susaeta’s inclusion arrived at a questionable time. However, the player knew exactly how to respond to his critics.
Deployed in his usual position on the right hand flank of Marcelo Bielsa’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Susaeta provided the tackles to win back possession, used his intelligence to protect the ball and created the space needed for himself to receive and score the winner against Sevilla. Applying the necessary pressure so integral to Bielsa’s style of football, Susaeta played like a true lion eager to demonstrate his stamina and pace to justify his call-up.
It may have been Joaquin Caparros who handed the boy his debut but it was Bielsa who blindly trusted him to translate his tactics on the pitch. Playing him in every single official match last season, Bielsa took the time to build the player’s confidence, develop his skills and provide the security needed to vanquish his anxiety. Previously fearful in his approach to football, Susaeta was terrified of losing the ball under Caparros and lived a terrible last year with him. Poor form, health problems and his inability to keep the ball meant he was hardly played and never appreciated.
However, Bielsa’s faith in the player saw Susaeta become an undisputed starter, managing 63 appearances. That is only one away from the record set by the Spaniard Jurado.
“Last year he gave me the confidence to keep going forward even when things were not going very well at times.” Having scored 13 goals and provided over a dozen assists, the player’s delectable crossing ensured goals for Fernando Llorente and allowed the team to reach two finals.
Immediately noted for his consistency and ability to perform on the big stage, bigger clubs admitted interest in the young player from Eibar. Sitting down to conduct an interview with Deia, he happily explained his background, his relationship with his teammates and Coach and his ambitions. However, when asked whether he was tempted to leave considering how many European giants were showing an interest, his response was both quick and short. “Never.”
It’s been 16 years that Susaeta has been going to the Lezama club training ground and after years of working hard, he has finally become an integral player for the team he and his father supported as children.
Answering the questions posed with a certain innocence and humility, one can instantly note that Susaeta is not like any other footballer. His belief in loyalty belongs to another generation whilst his devotion to normality and distaste for stardom makes him somewhat of a rare breed in this industry. Yearning for continuity and comfort, his answers expose a sense of disbelief. It appears the player cannot quite believe his luck when it comes to being a definite starter for his team, admitting that he doesn’t want to sleep at night in case he wakes up from this beautiful dream.
His refusal to judge teammates and insistence on supporting every decision they or his club may make, the player’s honour separates him for the crowd. Mature in every possible way, Susaeta may not be the player who attracts a symphony of compliments for his creativity but he will always ensure solidity and guts. Del Bosque certainly feels now is the time to honour the man who sacrifices himself for football at every opportunity. Perhaps it’s time Susaeta gets a good night’s sleep.