Caislin Boyle waxes lyrical in her praise of Liverpool’s ever-improving Joe Gomez and explains how the Englishman is a product of an extreme will to succeed.
The story of Joe Gomez has been one of acceleration and setback, both of which he has taken in his formidable stride.
In the days following an infamous England victory over Spain, Gomez’s upward trajectory continues at an exciting pace. So often when heralding the current form of a player, it is vital to look at the preceding experiences that got them there.
This is especially true of Gomez, who has epitomised versatility and resilience in his fledgeling career. If we are to divide football into ability and mentality, Joe Gomez has parity of both.
Joe began his career at Charlton, where he broke into the first team at the tender age of 17. That implies a seamless acceleration up through the ranks, which wasn’t the case.
Gomez was initially cast aside by the U9 setup at Charlton, with Academy Manager Steve Avory assessing that ‘Joe was maybe not as technically accomplished as some of the other players’.
However, he was firmly back in the fold by U10 level and never looked back.
Age 13 saw him make his U18 debut, and by age 17 he had made his maiden senior bow v Colchester United. He made 24 senior appearances for Charlton before Liverpool beckoned.
Gomez is often described as a ‘Rolls Royce’ of a centre-back, and this smooth element is something that wasn’t considered entirely positive in his formative years.
Charlton U21s coach Jason Euell said that Gomez’s desire to always play out from the back wasn’t always beneficial for his aspirations as a centre-back.
According to Euell, then Academy Director Paul Hart told Gomez that if he was to make it as a centre-back ‘he would have to head the ball, and would have to get better at heading it’.
And he has. Against Brighton this season, long-balls were specifically aimed at Gomez to test this particular aptitude. He responded by winning more aerial duels than any other player.
His Charlton grounding undoubtedly enabled his move to Liverpool, one that was completed for a modest £3.5 million in June 2015. In a summer where the club also signed Adam Bogdan, the capture has been an unequivocal success.
Gomez’s versatility and resilience were both tested in the infancy of his Liverpool career. Also highlighted was his ability to defy expectations. At the time of Gomez’s signing the BBC announcement read “The 18-year-old will start pre-season with the Reds but is expected to go out on loan”.
Gomez didn’t and never has. Fitness permitting, he has always been in and around the first team.
Instead, he went straight into the Liverpool XI, albeit at left back. His versatility allowed him to start the first five games of the season in that position.
Little can be gauged from that particular period in Liverpool’s history as it saw the team in such poor form that Brendan Rodgers was dismissed. However, the promising start of Gomez (at a new club in unfamiliar terrain) was a lingering positive ember of Rodgers’ reign.
A test of Gomez’s resilience was next up – a trip away with England U21s in October 2015 saw Joe return with a season-ending ACL injury. This could have proven fatal in respect of missing the opportunity to impress the newly-appointed Klopp.
Yet it didn’t, and despite another injury lay-off precluding Gomez’s availability until November 2016, Klopp saw enough to offer him a new deal in January 2017. Only three FA Cup appearances followed during the rest of that season.
Gomez did finally get his league debut under Klopp in August 2017, at right-back. Not even his biggest supporter could assert that he looked totally comfortable in the position, not least in an attacking sense. This was reflected in the fact that he only amassed two assists across 27 appearances that season.
However, the overarching impression was always of someone compelled to acquit himself as best as possible. A clear ancillary objective was to play himself into contention for a future centre-back role.
Often short-termism in football blinkers opinion, but there’s no doubt that Gomez’s mixed season at right back equipped him for the adversities of life at centre-half.
Making 31 appearances (in all competitions) was a huge step forward in respect of Gomez’s development, a total that would’ve been greater but for another injury lay off which ended his season three months prematurely.
Yet it is this season that has truly demonstrated the rewards of coaching, of having the strength to overcome injury and of offering a safe environment for youth to flourish.
Gomez has only missed one Premier League game (v Southampton). He has looked totally assured alongside Virgil van Dijk, even eclipsing the Dutch colossus in certain games (notably Leicester). He has been part of a defence that has only conceded 3 goals in the Premier League and, personally, has a 64% tackle success rate.
In a defensive unit the partnership matters beyond measure: Gomez wouldn’t be thriving to such a degree without van Dijk, but the opposite can equally be asserted.
The biggest compliment you can pay Gomez is that his age is often forgotten because his demeanour so belies it. He doesn’t convey his 21 years on the pitch. Expectations are growing because those set have already been exceeded.
In a recent interview with the FA, Gomez said that his ACL injury wasn’t ‘in the script’. His rise to prominence undoubtedly was.
As said by former Academy manager Steve Avory, Gomez possesses a ‘unique’ quality – one that almost guarantees success.
The hope for Liverpool fans is that this quality results in silverware heading to L4 come May.
In that same FA interview, Gomez described being a footballer as a ‘blessing’. It’s a blessing he has been made to work hard for, to recover for, and to persevere for.
For that, he deserves credit, as both a footballer and as a man.