Emiliano Insúa is settled in Stuttgart, on and off the pitch, but cannot help but look back at what might have been for him at Liverpool having joined the club 12 years ago.
Emiliano Insúa: ‘It was sad for me to leave Liverpool. I wanted to stay’
The Argentinian full-back is happy at Stuttgart but regrets how his time at Anfield ended – quickly due to a combination of Roy Hodgson and Paul Konchesky
Wed 1 May 2019 13.02 BST
As Liverpool supporters prepare to watch their team face Barcelona in a Champions League semi-final first leg tie at the Camp Nou, here is something that will make them feel old: Emiliano Insúa is 30. And a father of two.
Yes, that’s right, the wide-eyed, plump-cheeked, shaggy-haired left-back of Rafael Benítez’s time in charge at Anfield is all grown-up. He is also coming towards the end of his fourth season at Stuttgart, a difficult and chaotic time for the Bundesliga club but which Insúa is able to keep in perspective and appreciate given everything that has happened to him over the past decade or so.
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It has been a period of constant upheaval and self-examination for a player who appeared destined for a long and stable career at Liverpool having arrived there from Boca Juniors in January 2007. He had yet to turn 18, and had never played outside of Argentina, but impressed almost immediately, leading to a loan move soon being turned into a permanent one. There followed a steady rise up the ranks and then, during the 2009-10 season, 44 appearances for the first team, all but one of which were from the start.
Yet ultimately that was it for Insúa. He left Liverpool at the end of what proved to be a bruising campaign for all involved - the team finished seventh a year after almost winning the Premier League title while Benítez became engulfed in a civil war caused by the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett which also saw him depart in the summer.
“It was a difficult season” recalls Insúa, now sporting a well-groomed beard and ponytail. “Rafa had problems with the owners and that spread to the team. But still we almost made the final of the Europa League [Liverpool lost to Atlético Madrid in the semis] and in the league we came close to qualifying for the Champions League.
“I also learned a lot from this season. I played 44 games and I got an injury in the last two months. Without that, I would have played at least 50 games. It is also amazing for me to look back and remember I was in the same team as [Fernando] Torres, [Steven] Gerrard, [Jamie] Carragher, [Pepe] Reina, [Javier] Mascherano … a lot of big players who have had big careers. I will remember that time forever.”
There is no denying the warmth Liverpool generates within Insúa on what is a cold morning at Stuttgart’s training base, located on the east bank of the river Neckar and in the shadow of the 60,000-seater Mercedes-Benz Arena. He smiles almost constantly as we speak about his three and a half years at the club, with his mood only darkening when the conversation turns to how and why it all ended – the arrival of Roy Hodgson as Benítez’s successor in July 2010.
“It was sad for me to leave because I was feeling really well at Liverpool,” Insúa says. “I wanted to stay but Hodgson told me I will not play [under him]. I was young and I wanted to play, so I left. Hodgson then signed Paul Konchesky to be the left-back but Konchesky did not do well for Liverpool ... maybe I should have stayed.”
There follows a devilish laugh from Insúa, and justifiably so – he was a better left-back for Liverpool than Konchesky ever was. Equally, there is no escaping the fact he never quite lived up to his promise.
Insúa was regarded as being among the finest South American talents of his generation, so much so that Liverpool snapped him up before he had even made a first-team appearance for Boca. Decent displays followed, from an attacking as well as defensive point of view, but as the 2009-10 campaign went on Insúa looked increasingly exposed and unsure of what he was meant to be doing.
Those deficiencies may have disappeared over time, especially had Benítez, who Insúa describes as “one of the best coaches I have ever had”, remained in situ. But back then it appeared as if a regular first-team place at an elite-level European club had simply come too soon for the boy from Buenos Aires.
Not that Insúa sees it that way. “When you are young you want to play every game,” he insists. “But also I did not have competition. Fábio Aurélio was there but he had many injuries. He was a really good player but could not play. So it was me and [Andrea] Dossena but he wasn’t doing well so Rafa decided to give me his confidence. I was happy, feeling well, and I don’t think I had a bad season.”
There was an obvious standout moment - Insúa’s one and only goal for Liverpool. It came in a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal in the fourth-round of the Carling Cup and was the type of thumping, long-range volley that would have had Alan Partridge talking about traction engines had he been doing the commentary.
“Long ball from Martin Skrtel, Ryan Babel head back, I control and shoot,” Insúa says as he recalls the strike. “I always felt good in this stadium, the Emirates. I don’t know why. And this was a really nice goal.”
Having been encouraged by Hodgson to leave Liverpool, Insúa joined Galatasaray on loan in August 2010. It was the start of a nomadic existence for the player as he then moved to Sporting Lisbon and Atlético Madrid on permanent deals. There followed another loan spell, this time at Rayo Vallecano, before he signed for Stuttgart in July 2015.
The defender, who has been capped five times by his country, has become a first-team regular at the German club and despite suffering one Bundesliga relegation in 2016 and currently being close to another - Stuttgart are 16th and on their third manager of the season following Markus Weinzierl’s recent sacking and the appointment of Nico Willig as his successor – he is keen to extend his stay. For Insúa, there is a bigger picture to think about.
“In every moment I have tried to do the best for my career. It has brought me a lot of experiences but now I have a family, two kids, and for them I want to be at a club for a long time,” he says. “That is why I was in Madrid for two years and now this is my fourth year in Stuttgart. It is the club I have been at the longest.
“At the beginning it was a little scary because it was a different country, a different language, but I’ve lived abroad for a long time so I am used to travelling. I have settled down very well – the city is great and a lot of Argentinians live here. That has made it easier for all of us.”
Asked for one final memory from his time at Liverpool, Insúa pauses. “Nothing compares to playing at Anfield,” he eventually replies, allowing another smile to spread across his face.
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