When Liverpool acquired the services of a young Englishman from Charlton, a lot of eyebrows were raised (when are they not?). Liverpool have become synonymous with signing young players and clearly, another raw, supposedly talented player who is good for the future, isn’t going to get a lot of people excited.
However, half-way through the pre-season and people have had their opinions considerably altered (is a disclaimer of “this is only pre-season” really required?).
Who is Joe Gomez?
London born Joe Gomez signed for Charlton Athletic as a young boy and was considered good enough to make his debut for the U-18 team at just 13 years of age. He has been highly rated for a while now and was strongly linked with several clubs including Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton around 2012, but the player decided to continue at the club and signed his first professional contract with Charlton in 2014. Liverpool, in fact, were also rumored to be interested in him then. He made his senior debut for Charlton last year in a 4-0 league cup win over Colchester. He went to make over 24 appearances for Charlton last season which included 18 starts. His performances last season led to him being nominated for the 2014/15 Apprentice of the Year at the Football League awards where he lost out to Leeds’ Lewis Cook.
Liverpool were now clearly determined to not lose out on the player and went in for him with full determination and emerged victorious, as they signed Gomez for £3.5m. Gomez has featured for the Reds in the pre-season and has got the fans very excited. The player has done remarkably well, so much so that Brendan Rodgers insisted that he will not be loaned out next season and will get a chance to try and break into the first team. He said, “Joe will stay with the club this season. I’ve already seen enough in this period. With young players I bring them in and I judge them over the pre-season period and seeing him close at hand and his personality he will be staying, he will get games. He’s got all the tools to play across the back four and he’s a big talent.”
With Andre Wisdom set for another loan move, Gomez could feature in cup matches and be used in a squad role in the Premier League.
The 18 year-old was a member of the victorious England side that won the 2014 U-17 European Championship. Remarkably, they only conceded once in the entire tournament. He is very young and if he continues on the path he’s already on, he can break into the senior England side in the near future.
Style of Play, Strengths, and Weaknesses
What is striking about Gomez, who has already been labelled the “next Rio Ferdinand”, is his imposing physical presence. Standing at 6ft 2in, his physical development is certainly beyond his years and at first glance you wouldn’t think he is only 18 (especially if he has Jordan Rossiter standing next to him). Gomez’s primary position has been said to be that of a centre-back, but he has mostly been employed as a right-back for Charlton. Brendan Rodgers used him in both full-back positions in the pre-season and he could prove to be a great cover for Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno as well as the centre-backs. His chances of playing as a full-back in the first team are currently more as Liverpool have enough back-up options for the central defence currently (albeit them not being the most effective). But his future surely lies in the centre of the defence.
His height gives him the advantage of being good in the air. He is also composed at the back and doesn’t dive into tackles rashly. He’s an intelligent player who basically has everything that is required from a defender – strength, stamina, pace. In fact it’s his pace that makes him so competent in the full-back positions.
Confidence and maturity are the other notable things that stand out from his game. He looked right at home on his senior debut for Charlton’s last season, far from a 17 year old with nerves as you’d expect. In what was a 3-2 win for over Derby County, Gomez made 5 successful tackles, more than any other player on the pitch. He looked calm and it resonated in his game. Granted it was just pre-season, but even for Liverpool, Gomez looked mature beyond his years as he seamlessly slotted in the team at right-back and left-back. What was even better was that unlike the “modern day full-back”, Gomez cared enough to track back and contribute to the defensive side of the game as he remembered that his primary job is defensive. Many have even claimed that he is a safer option to have in the left-back spot than Alberto Moreno, who showed his poor defensive sense last season. However, these claims are very premature.
While there aren’t any particular weaknesses in his game, Gomez does need to better himself in every department. He also needs to ensure he doesn’t turn out to be a jack of all trades, something Liverpool players are recently becoming more of, because of Rodgers’s insistence on having “multi-functional players”. It’s good that Gomez could save Liverpool some money in not buying full-back cover but his future lies in central defense and the player therefore needs to be played there this season (in cup games, possibly). And if he has to play the full-back role, his productivity in the attacking department has to be bettered. While he gets forward very well, he averaged 0.4 accurate crosses every 90 minutes for Charlton last season (started 9 games for the club as a full-back) which isn’t too bad a figure, but could be improved. Gomez should also exploit his height better and become an asset for the team in set-piece situations, not only defensively but also offensively.
Judging by this (and when you ask Charlton fans), it can be seen that Gomez doesn’t really have drawbacks in his game and the only way his signing could be called iffy is the fact that he is young and relatively inexperienced at the highest level.
What does the future hold?
Martin Kelly and Andre Wisdom both struggled to cement themselves at Liverpool despite high hopes, due to a lack of opportunity. Could this move have come too early for the youngster? Maybe. But Brendan Rodgers has already said that the player will not be sent out on loan and will get chances this season. So there is room for optimism. Andre Wisdom has been loaned out to Norwich City which means that Gomez has already moved ahead of a direct competitor for the first team spot. Perhaps Liverpool will decide to loan him out in January, if they feel that his development is being stunted (if he is not getting enough chances with the club then).
Fact remains that Gomez needs fine-tuning and is definitely a raw player right now. He may surprise and do equally well in the Premier League, but saying that he can replace one of the senior Liverpool players might be getting ahead of ourselves. Having said that, he is touted as one of the brightest young players in England and he certainly looks like he has the attributes to cement his place in the Liverpool team, sooner rather than later. Especially with Alberto Moreno’s first season so hot and cold and Gomez being equipped enough to play the full-back role, chances for the Englishman look to be on the brighter side.
Written by Aakriti Mehrotra