Denis Suarez has the same gift for eluding awkward questions as he does for eluding the attentions of opposition players on the pitch. He does so with a broad smile, however, his enigmatic approach doing justice to the place of his birth, Galicia, in northwestern Spain, where the locals have something of a reputation for concealing what they are really thinking. Meet one on the stairs, they say, and it is impossible to know whether they are coming down or going up.
Suarez laughs when it is put it to him that he is a true Gallego. “The pressure of being favourites?” he said, with a hint of mischief in his eyes. “We don’t have any because we don’t see ourselves as favourites.”
When it comes to dispatching his duties on the field of play, there nothing evasive about Suarez, even if his role as an impact substitute is not an easy one. With Gerard Deulofeu virtually a guaranteed starter on the left flank, the young Manchester City midfielder has been restricted to just one start at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 so far.
Even so, he has made the most of the limited opportunities that have come his way, marking his appearance in the starting line-up against Ghana with an assist, and coming on in the 68th minute of a tight Round of 16 match against Mexico and changing the game.
“Before I went on [Spain coach] Julen [Lopetegui] told me that we needed to get hold of the ball,” he explained. “And I think the arrival of Suso and I gave us more possession and allowed us to move the ball around more quickly.”
Yet Suarez did more than just help Spain impose their possession-based game, the City man providing another trademark assist to help Derik level the tie against the Mexicans with 16 minutes remaining.
“It was turning out to be a very tough match because they went ahead early on and then defended really well, closing off the flanks and making it hard for us to get back into the game,” he said, reflecting on his side’s hard-fought 2-1 win. “Luckily we got the goal from the corner, which I flicked on and Derik knocked in. That caused them to open out a bit more, which is when we started finding some space.”
In preparation for that corner kick, Denis stationed himself at the near post, acting on the advice of one of Lopetegui’s coaching assistants. Taking up the story, he said: “As I was getting ready to come on, Santi [Denia] said to me that Mexico’s No9 always stood at the near post and cleared every corner that came his way. So I stood in front of him, tried to head the ball in myself and ended up flicking it to Derik.”
The pressure of being favourites? We don’t have any because we don’t see ourselves as favourites.
Suarez smiled as he reflected on his contribution, proud to have done his bit in his side’s victory. “There was a phase in the game when quite a few of us were a little bit worried because we thought that we weren’t going to go through. In the end we did it though,” he added.
The last-16 tie was the first time in the tournament that Spain had fallen behind, an unexpected turn of events that had them against the ropes for a long time.
“Last year, we won a European U-19 Championship qualifier against Italy in the closing minutes. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have gone on to win the continental title and we wouldn’t be here,” said Suarez, pointing to Spain’s battling qualities.
Another dangerous opponent now lies in wait for Spain in the quarter-finals – a Uruguay side that is improving with every game. “I think it’s going to be a similar game to the Mexico one," said Suarez.
"They’re going to press hard and make it tough, like all the South American sides do, and I think we’re going to see a similar match to the one between the national side and Uruguay at the Confederations Cup.”
On being reminded that Spain won that match 2-1, the midfielder flashed another of his mischievous smiles: “If that’s the result, then great.”
Pushing for a place
Then came the big question: would the City man be starting against La Celeste? Suarez responded by describing his virtues: “I can play in a more central position and I can play on the flank. And whenever I play I try and do the best I can to give the boss a problem. My aim is to make it as hard as possible for him when he’s selecting the team.”
Citing Andres Iniesta and his club-mate David Silva as his footballing role models, the youngster is anxious to nail down a place for both country and club, where the arrival of Manuel Pellegrini as coach could see him getting more chances to do just that.
“It’s exciting that Pellegrini has come because he put Isco straight in the team at Malaga even though he hadn’t been playing at Valencia,” said Suarez, hastening to point out that he was not trying to compare himself to Real Madrid’s brand new signing.
Nicknamed “Justin Bieber” by former team-mate Mario Balotelli because of his boyish looks, the Spaniard said he is just as happy in the City dressing room as he is in the Spain one, where the joker of the pack is Deulofeu.
If the Barça winger is the funny man, can Suarez be described as the shy guy in the Spain team? “No, no, I’m the normal guy. Neither shy nor a joker,” he replied, the Gallego inside him showing through once again. Asked to be a little more specific, he answered with a characteristic laugh: “I’m, how can I put it? The impartial one.”