Anfield under the lights, Merseyside Derby to boot. There are few bigger, more fiercer spectacles in football. Andre Gomes had headed the ball from a yard out and Alisson was out of position, the ball was trickling in and then, in the most dramatic fashion, in came the legs of the 21-year-old Joe Gomez to clear the ball, saving the day, yet again. Highlights of the winner may be replayed time and again, but this was the moment which turned the tide in Liverpool’s favour in the game and ultimately, in the season.
The story of this strapping lad begins in Catford, a South East London suburb. A suburb with a more than average crime rate, Gomez certainly had it tough from the get-go. Like any kid who dreams to make it professional, he started to play at a very young age, whether at his school or at the local parks. But unlike most professional players, he had to wait for his chance at the very top level and display enormous patience, the kind which is rare nowadays in youngsters, even though the talent was evidently present from the very beginning.
Always possessing great control over the ball while playing in the London parks with his buddies, Gomez was recommended by his school to sign up for the local Catford football club. From there, he was promptly spotted by a scout from the Charlton Athletic school when he turned 9. They would be the first club that invigorated his youth career to a recognisable stage.
He had all the physical attributes to make it at the top level but it was his religious work ethic from a young age that kept him reigned in and focussed on football.
“He looked at me in the eye and told me he wanted to play for a top European club when he was 10”.
His coach’s words said out loud what was already becoming a fact for the people in and around him.
He first played for the Charlton U18s at the age of 13, which was a testament to some of the tall claims the coaches were making about the cool-headed boy from Catford. His senior debut came in August 2014, in a League Cup mauling of Colchester United where he impressed, keeping a clean sheet. He was unhesitatingly awarded his first league start soon and did nothing to malign his ever-growing presence in the dressing room.
And although Charlton received a few offers for him from clubs, none more eye-catching than Manchester City. That would have been some transfer in hindsight, looking back on Liverpool’s inability this season to keep clean sheets without the 21-year-old. But he stood firmly within himself, displaying loyalties well beyond his age, something which, by now, was largely considered a well-established trait of the boy. Gomez progressed leaps and bounds tactically under then Charlton boss Bob Peeters.
“The perfect footballer does not exist, but you look at all the assets Joe has – pace, strength, comfortable with the ball at his feet” – Bob Peeter’s words when asked about Joe Gomez.
The big switch
Paramount praise must be reserved for Brendan Rodgers and his scouting team for unearthing a gem of a player who may well be on his way to greatness at Anfield this season. He signed for the club in the summer of 2015 for 3.5 million pounds. Although he had no qualms in switching from London to the North-West, his first days were a real struggle as it was the first time that he was living away from home. He gives credit to 3 women who made his integration into his new life a little more comforting – his girlfriend, and Anfield’s favourite cooking duo – Carol and Caroline.
Rodgers’ scouts identified a player who was an alpha youth since his Charlton days, commanding the respect of his peers and rivals alike. His influence in games was telling and it directly influenced games. He played his first game for Liverpool as a left-back (not by any stretch his preferred position). It was surprising to see him thrown straight into Premier League action but he repaid his manager’s faith by putting in a faultless performance. He even grabbed the assist for the winner, keeping a clean sheet in the process. He kept his place at left-back for the next few matches and looked set to make the spot his own for the 2015-16 season, but then tragedy struck.
Trials and tribulations
While on duty for the National duty for the U21s, he ruptured his ACL, ruling him out for a year and a half, just when he thought he’d made it. It was all around a tough and confusing time for the youngster as there was also a change in management, with Jürgen Klopp coming in to replace his coach-cum-mentor Brendan Rodgers. The magnitude of the setback was a lot to process for the youngster and this kind of injury is notorious to break careers.
The kid, though, wasn’t to be deterred. He felt assured after Klopp made it known that he certainly had Joe in his plans. After the 18-month hiatus, when all he could think about was to resume playing, he injured his ankle in training and his return was further extended by 6 weeks.
On returning, he replaced Nathaniel Clyne at right-back, effectively ending the England international’s long term hold on the position. He impressed with defensively displays in an attacking team and made that position his own. He was rotated with the local boy Trent Alexander-Arnold throughout the season and started understanding the role better as the season went on. There was an underlying, unsaid truth around Anfield that this was the boy who would eventually partner up with Virgil van Dijk to become the foundation of a watertight defence. The mistakes he made at right-back would, it was believed, stand him in good stead for his overall development.
This season Gomez has been of a different calibre altogether. Having made the second center-back spot his own, he serves as the perfect foil for van Dijk and their chemistry seems to be rivalled by no other partnership in England. He likes to keep it simple and sweeps up the back, leaving the senior partner to spread the ball around. He complements van Dijk’s style very well because being a junior, he is always ready to listen on the pitch much more than what Lovren or Matip do, which brings an overall calm at the back for the Reds. Their record up until his injury – having the best defence in Premier League history – least amount of goals conceded, equalling the Chelsea side of early 00s – is proof enough of his talent.
Read More | The transformation of Liverpool’s defence |
Although highly adept at maneuvring the ball with his feet and being positionally clever while possessing a ferocious tackle, he can improve his heading ability, especially his offensive headers. Liverpool really lack bite in the corners department and more often than not, their corners end up as goal kicks. Gomez possesses high levels of concentration throughout the game and this has touted him to become a future captain. Although not the most extroverted, he is certainly capable of leading the team with his exploits on the pitch. Local lad Trent- Alexander Arnold might have a say in this though!
By signing a long term deal in December of 2018, Gomez has joined the bandwagon of players pledging themselves to the club. Whether or not he tastes success with the club is a question for another day, but Liverpool fans hope that he can usher in the winning mentality and transfer it onto the pitch for them. This will go a long way in ensuring that this current crop of Liverpool players are remembered and revered all over the world.
Related | Virgil van Dijk – The colossus at the heart of Liverpool’s title challenge |
Related | Andrew Robertson – To Hull and Back |
Childhood Image via Liverpool FC
Charlton Atheltic Image via Sky Sports