Moving to another continent in your adult years, never mind as a teenager, is quite a significant life change, but it wasn’t one that Emiliano Insua was afraid to make prior to his 18th birthday. The Argentine left-back had only just turned voting age when he relocated from his home country to the north-west of England, having signed for Liverpool on loan for the second half of the 2006/07 season.
A move to Europe had been widely expected for the youngster, who had made a string of tremendous performances at underage level for Boca Juniors and Argentina. Two Liverpool scouts, Frank McParland and Paddy Murphy, spotted the teenager and set the wheels in motion for him to join the Anfield giants, even though Insua hadn’t played a first team game for Boca before the loan deal was agreed in the winter of 2006. He only played twice for Liverpool’s senior side in his first half-season but still persuaded the club to make his loan deal permanent, with Gabriel Paletta joining Boca as part of the transfer.
For all of Insua’s promise and potential, Rafael Benitez was still slow to give him a run in the first team, with just three appearances being made during 2007/08, John Arne Riise and Fabio Aurelio proving difficult to shift in competition for the left-back berth. However, the Argentine gained valuable experience in Liverpool’s reserve team, for whom he played a significant part in their Premier Reserve League triumph in 2008 under the late Gary Ablett. Insua’s first team break would come midway through the 2008/09 campaign, with Riise having left the club, Aurelio injured and summer arrival Andrea Dossena struggling for form. It was a brief stint, though, with the more senior options soon restored.
By the start of the 2009/10 season, there was a sense of now or never for Insua at Anfield and Benitez rewarded the left-back’s patience by giving him a more sustained run in the side. However, Liverpool struggled in that campaign, having come so close to winning the league just a few months previously, and Insua never truly inspired confidence in Reds supporters. His name was among those mentioned in lists of players who many believed had no future at the club and his impetuousness was evidenced by a needless yellow card in a Europa League quarter-final defeat to Benfica in 2010 which saw him suspended for the second leg, which thankfully Liverpool won to advance to the last four.
Benitez was sacked at the end of that season and Roy Hodgson made it clear that Insua wasn’t part of his plans by making him available for transfer at a time when the club had no other senior left-backs – that would soon change with the arrival of the hapless Paul Konchesky. The Argentina international went on loan to Galatasaray for the 2010/11 season, although mid-season changes in management at both his loan and parent clubs added a twist. Galatasaray boss Gheorghe Hagi had no interest in fielding loan players, while Hodgson’s sacking paved the way for Kenny Dalglish to take over in the dugout, a man for whom Insua had a long-standing respect. He returned to Liverpool in summer 2011 and featured in pre-season, but that would be his last hurrah at Anfield as, a few weeks later, he signed permanently for Sporting Lisbon.
It was in Portugal that Insua finally showed regular glimpses of the player he had promised to become in his underage days. He was the club’s undisputed first choice at left-back and he chipped in with a decent share of goals, but a Europa League match against Lazio was his career in microcosm – a fine goal followed by an avoidable red card. Still, his performances at Sporting led to Atletico Madrid signing him midway through the 2012/13 season at a time when Diego Simeone was in the process of building the team that would go on to reach two Champions League finals in three years.
However, Atletico was a counterproductive step for Insua, who went from being a first team regular at Sporting to a reserve in the Spanish capital. He was a member of the squad that made it to the Champions League decider in 2014, but did not feature in that final, which ironically was played in Lisbon. Atletico loaned him to La Liga strugglers Rayo Vallecano for the following season and, upon expiry of that deal, he sealed a permanent switch to Stuttgart. That move again brought regular first team action for Insua, but he was unfortunately part of a Stuttgart side that achieved notoriety in 2016 when being relegated from the Bundesliga, livid supporters refusing the players’ applause on the day their fate was sealed. The Argentine stayed put, though, to help the club back into the top flight at the first time of asking and, as he approaches his 29th birthday, he remains a familiar figure in the Stuttgart starting line-up.
Insua was by no means a disaster at Liverpool, but having arrived with precious little top level experience and being forced to compete with seasoned options for his position, it was a transition that proved beyond him. Still, he has forged a career playing for some well-known clubs across Europe and has done enough to avoid becoming a much-maligned journeyman. Plus, he would have been a far bigger asset to Hodgson during that distressing 2010/11 campaign than Konchesky ever was.