AN astounding goal during a three-minute cameo performance in Hearts’ Edinburgh derby win strengthens Suso Santana’s case for a starting place considerably. He is hopeful of gaining manager Paulo Sergio’s trust for this evening’s Scottish Cup quarter-final replay with St Mirren. Hopeful, but not exactly confident.
Pent-up frustration is hard to contain, and Suso harbours plenty of it at the moment. He ripped off his shirt and slammed it on the turf after his inspirational strike at the end of Sunday’s 2-0 defeat of Hibs. Then, at full-time, he booted the ball high into air almost in defiant celebration.
The fiery Latino temperament has never been more in evidence.
Many things are troubling the little Spaniard, not least the loneliness of being ensconced in Scotland whilst his wife and daughter Nicole remain at the family home in Tenerife.
The t-shirt unveiled from beneath his Hearts jersey on Sunday contained a picture of the two-year-old girl, to whom Suso dedicated his goal. He misses his family terribly. He spent much of 2011 sidelined with knee and hamstring injuries and has yet to start a match under Sergio. He has fallen out of favour under the Portuguese coach, which isn’t helping his mood any. And, like his colleagues, he is yet to receive his monthly salary for March, which was due last Friday.
On top of that, the Hearts hierarchy are releasing statements accusing players who refused severance packages in January of being mercenaries and contributing to the cashflow problems.
“They elected to stagnate, preferring to take the club’s money while offering very little or nothing in return,” said part of Friday’s post on the club website. Suso was one of those who refused to terminate his contract early. It’s fair to say the 27-year-old is rather miffed, all things considered. A starting place against St Mirren tonight would be a window to unleash his frustrations.
“It’s the decision of the manager if I play or not,” he said with a shrug of the shoulders.
“My knee is fine now so I’m okay. For the last two months I’ve been training as normal but the manager doesn’t play me.
“I haven’t played much for the manager this season but I respect him and his decisions. I have trained hard every day but if the manager says I don’t play, then I don’t play.
“Scoring against Hibs was a great moment for me. It gives me confidence and I am confident right now. I am confident each day in training. I work, work, work all the time but the manager has not said anything to me. He told me I work well every day and maybe tomorrow or next week I will play. It’s his decision and I respect his choice.
“It’s difficult for me because, for the last two years, I have played all the time for Hearts.
“Now I’m not playing and it’s hard. It’s a problem for me. I scored a good goal (against Kilmarnock last month) and another good goal but then it’s finished.”
It was somewhat ironic that Suso produced such an impressive solo strike in a tense Edinburgh derby just 48 hours after the Hearts board released their strongly-worded statement. As retorts go, it couldn’t have been scripted better from the winger’s point of view.
“I didn’t play at all between September and January because of my injury but I wanted to stay here until the end of the season. It’s my decision,” he said.
“It’s the responsibility of the club to pay the players. The club is not paying the players. The players have a contract with the club but the club is not paying. It’s not our responsibility, it’s (Vladimir) Romanov or Sergey’s (Fedotovas) responsibility.”
The irritation should not be misinterpreted as complete unhappiness with life as a Hearts player. On the contrary, Suso stressed he would like to stay in Edinburgh in the unlikely event of him being offered a contract extension.
First, he would need to persuade his wife to swap the sun-kissed Canary Islands for the rather more temperate Scottish climate.
“I want to stay here because I am happy. For me, it’s no problem to stay here. The problem is the club, not me. I like life here.
“I’m not happy with my wife and baby in Spain but if I stay here then I want my wife to come back.
“Sunday was a very emotional moment for me.
“My wife and my baby are not here, they are in Spain, so it’s a complicated situation. I am here by myself and I am lonely. The goal was emotional for my baby, it was for Nicole.
“She is two years old and I miss her.
“Last month my wife was here but she is in Spain now so I am finding it difficult.” Yet he can still offer much on the field between now and the expiry of his contract in June. Hearts can secure a Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic by overcoming St Mirren this evening. Then there is the prospect of reaching the qualifying rounds of the Europa League, either by winning the cup or through their final league position.
Most Hearts supporters would agree that Suso has the capability to play an important part in the climax to the campaign. He has developed something of a cult following since joining the club in June 2009, aided by goals in the high-profile fixtures against Celtic, Rangers and Hibs (twice). The respect between player and public is two-way.
“The fans are the best. When I play, I am very happy and very grateful for their support.
“Scoring on Sunday was a good feeling. I was just happy to play three minutes and score one goal. The win was for the team and the fans were very happy, so I was happy too.”
He could certainly use a chance to build on the feel-good factor in Paisley.
As a season littered with frustration draws to a close, Suso Santana feels he still has plenty to prove.