Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. A struggling Spanish winger has left Merseyside and rediscovered his best form on the hallowed turf of San Siro for Milan.
Earlier in the season this is what happened for former Liverpool flop Suso, the Cádiz native netting more goals in his first Milan derby (two) than he managed in three years at Anfield.
He scored one goal and laid on another against Napoli, weighed in with another assist and a cooly-taken penalty in the Supercoppa Italiana shootout triumph over Juventus, establishing himself as a vital member of Vincenzo Montella’s side.
Indeed, were it not for a thigh injury, Suso was almost certain to receive a maiden call up from Spain boss Julen Lopetegui for the recent matches with Israel and France.
Instead, team-mate Gerard Deulofeu took his place with the national team and did not disappoint. Yes, the same Gerard Deulofeu who left Everton in January because he couldn’t get into Ronald Koeman’s side was now part of a team who left the Stade de France with a victory, coming off the bench to net a goal that sealed a 2-0 friendly win.
WATCH: The referee decides to disallow Deulofeu's goal against France but then gives it, thanks to the video assistant referee! ⚫🔴 pic.twitter.com/KsBB1bFN9O
— SempreMilan (@SempreMilanCom) March 28, 2017
David Silva had opened the scoring for Spain with a penalty after Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny fouled Deulofeu, but his shining moment was stalled by the Video Assistant Referee. La Furia Roja tore down the France right flank, resulting in Jordi Alba swinging a dangerous cross low into the box.
Deulofeu arrived to turn the ball beyond Hugo Lloris, only for the celebrations to be put on hold while the match official spent almost five minutes judging whether or not he was offside. When Felix Zwayer finally indicated that the goal would stand, the 23-year-old was mobbed by team-mates.
Having made his only other appearance for the full national team way back in May 2014, he knows all about waiting. While Everton and Barcelona both appeared to cut their losses after growing impatient in waiting on his immense potential to emerge.
Signing for Barcelona at just nine, Deulofeu was a child prodigy at La Masia, signing a contract with Nike just three years after joining the club’s academy and progressing through the ranks at a rapid rate.
Gerard Deulofeu on Lionel Messi comparisons: "It created too much expectation among Barcelona fans. There’s only one Messi." pic.twitter.com/1H2VXjxBmn
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) March 27, 2017
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Small, skilful and with the ability to play either up front or on either flank, comparisons with Lionel Messi inevitably followed and the youngster – who had also already won a raft of honours with Spain’s Under-17 and Under-19 sides – struggled to cope with the pressure of such lofty expectations.
Despite earning a full Barcelona debut as long ago as 2011, he would find far greater consistency during a loan spell with Everton during the 2013/14 campaign. But he stalled while at Sevilla the following season.
A return to Goodison Park followed – this time permanently for a fee of around €4 million – but Roberto Martinez’s dismissal did little to help the confidence of his compatriot. And the appointment of Koeman would appear to shatter it completely.
Deulofeu felt the Dutchman was stifling his natural game and was not afraid to speak out. “I am not a defensive player, my best position is in attack,” he said in an interview with the Liverpool Echo. “I need to score goals, I need to make assists because if not, then I am not myself.”
However, Koeman – who had publicly criticised the player’s workrate earlier in the season – remained unmoved and less than a month later he would follow Suso to Milan. It would arguably be the best move he ever made.
In 10 appearances he has scored a match-winning goal against Fiorentina, adding three assists – including one against Juventus – in performances littered with sustained effort and the consistency he had always previously lacked.
Perhaps his best moment came in a February clash with Bologna that saw the Rossoneri down to nine men following the dismissals of Gabriel Paletta and Juraj Kucka. Deulofeu was playing in attack on his own, Montella hoping his speed would allow some relief from the constant pressure built by their dogged opponents.
— MILITAN™ (@MI_Tangerang) February 9, 2017
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However, with just 60 seconds of normal time remaining, he opted to win the match rather than simply run out the clock. Chasing a long ball down the right, Deulofeu blew past would-be marker Daniele Gastaldello before threading the ball through the legs of Emil Krafth to leave Mario Pašalić with a simple tap-in.
Creating an average of 2.2 clear-cut chances per game, this was no one-off. His 2.8 successful take-ons per outing ranks as the third highest total in Serie A.
His displays have led to talk of a possible return to Barcelona, the club reportedly considering activating the €12 million buyback option they inserted in their original deal with Everton.
However, the man himself has previously stated a desire to “have a career and not spend years on the bench not playing” – something that would be almost impossible given the continued presence of Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar in the squad.
“There is life beyond Barça,” he told Sid Lowe of The Guardian 18 months ago, and finally Gerard Deulofeu is proving that is true.