The manner in which the Premier League youngsters come through academies at certain clubs but a majority of them get stuck at around the ‘bottleneck age’, is one of the strangest things in English football right now. This transpires primarily to English players, but foreign players too are the receiving end of this stagnation. The ‘bottleneck age’ is a one that exists around a time when a player is 20 or 21, or say something Wayne Rooney somehow survived during his time as a youngster.
Although, this age can vary slightly for different players, but it certainly does take a toll on players at some point in their career, when a lot is being expected out of them. Take Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley or even Steven Caulker as examples. For the trio, this age arrived at a similar stage. And the consequences have been visibly similar too.
And many players, including the likes of Marcus Rashford, Kelechi Iheanacho and Tottenham sensation Dele Alli are slowly approaching that age, which can make or break their career. And one of them, who is lesser known, is Sunderland youngster Lynden Gooch.
Who is he?
An American by nationality, Gooch was born to an Irish mother and an English father in the Santa Cruz district of California, United States. Gooch hails from a footballing background, as his father Paul is a coach in California, while his elder brother Anthony had trials at clubs like AC Milan and Everton. In 2008, the then 12-year-old joined local club Santa Cruz Breakers, where he stayed till 2012.
“When we were younger, he would come out and play with the teams I would be playing with,”Anthony Gooch said. “I think playing against older guys at such a young age really helped him out a lot. He and I are both really competitive and it was definitely frustrating at times when we were out there and he would show up some of the older boys, including myself.”
His impressive showings for the Breakers had attracted interest from some European outfits and helped him earn a trial with Sunderland. He was then roped in by the Sunderland youth academy, appearing first for the Under-16s Black Cats side.
In 2015, after having climbed through the Under 18s and Under 19s sides, Gooch was sent on loan at Conference division side Gateshead. During his stay at the Tyneside based club, Gooch scored once and assisted just as many times in seven outings and then returned to the Sunderland Under 21s side. He scored five times in ten appearances from September to December, before moving to League One side Donacaster Rovers on a two-month loan.
At Doncaster Rovers, which is owned by One Direction heart-throb Louis Tomlinson, Gooch made ten appearances and assisted once as the side failed to win a single game during that period and eventually ended up getting relegated to League Two at the end of the season.
This season under former Everton and Manchester United manager David Moyes, Gooch has become a regular first-team member, after Jeremain Lens was sent out on loan to Fenerbahce. The youngster has made five Premier League appearances and has started two League Cup games, as the Black Cats lie rock-bottom of the Premier League, winless and almost hopeless.
Gooch has, thus far, made four appearances for the United States Under 20s side, having earned a call-up in 2014 and the represented the side in the 2015 CONCACAF Championship in Jamaica, helping the US achieve qualification for the 2015 Under 20s World Cup.
And quite recently, Gooch earned a call-up from the senior US side, which will take on New Zealand
An attacking midfielder by trade, but capable of playing either on the left or on the right too, Gooch is a diminutive modern-day talent, who likes to unleash his pace in areas close to the goal. Although, Gooch is better off playing on the right or behind the centre-forward, but likes to create spaces and opportunities for his team-mates.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Defenders never like to come up against forwards who unleash a bundle of pace against them, pinning their backs to the walls. Gooch likes to run at the opposition with his breath-taking pace and the ability to go past defenders as if they aren’t there. This season, Gooch has attempted 1.2 dribbles per game. This makes Gooch a really direct outlet for scoring and creating goals. Against Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough in the Tees-Wear derby, Gooch was arguably Sunderland’s best player on the pitch, showings glimpses of troubling pace and directness on and off the ball.
Despite being a diminutive character, Gooch isn’t someone who gets discouraged by having a size that is slightly small for being a regular Premier League player. His stocky build, which is indicative of how strong he is, helps him in giving the opposition back-four a headache with his bulky and robust figure always keeping them at bay.
His strength makes him someone who can hold up the ball and allow the players around him the time to make runs off him. Very good at holding off defenders too, this aspect of the game is a prominent aspect of Gooch’s playing style, apart from his tendency to take defenders on and beat them.
Look at how Gooch fights off pressure from the three ‘Boro midfielders, before launching it forward for Jermaine Defoe and makes a piercing, direct run at the back four.
The amount of energy he breathes into the side is commendable, much like that attack. All he required to open up the defence and carve out an opportunity was a single touch. And his determination to run and zoom past the on-looking three or four players spurred on the whole Sunderland side, which was a goal down after Christian Stuani’s golazo had stunned the Black Cats’ supporters.
Again, one can clearly notice how Gooch’s willingness and hunger to run at the opposition propels the team and here, his pace acts as a scourge for the Middlesbrough defence, as he zooms past them and creates an opening from almost dead situation, when he is surrounded by defenders.
One weakness in the American’s play is the occasional indecisiveness, when it comes to whether to pass, shoot or dribble it out. Its a problem that a majority of players face at a young age and Gooch’s final pass, or the final action in the box has to improve.
Against the Tottenham Under-21s, Gooch receives a cross from the left flank, attempts to dribble it past defenders and gets stuck in a muddle. Although, he does end up going past them after having been stuck in a tight corner to eventually score, but the instance is a perfect combination of his strengths and weaknesses. Indecisiveness close to goal and determination to run all match long.
“I started four games straight off the bounce. I think that was a surprise, but they manage players well. I think you’ll get burned out if you play every second after making that jump.
“I’ve got an experienced manager in David Moyes. He knows how to handle young players . . . he said that at times, ‘I have to take pressure off you as well’,” says Gooch, praising the former Everton boss, who has a lot to thank Gooch for and vice versa.
Gooch’s small figure is certainly an issue in the Premier League, but there are players such as Eden Hazard, Juan Mata or Paul Scholes himself, who have made a name for himself in the past despite being smaller than the ordinary Premier League players. Their abilities on the ball make up for the small size, adding to their agility and low balance of gravity. And moreover, transforming a player’s physique, which he has been accustomed to playing since childhood, can erode the other exceptional qualities he has on the ball and off it. And for Gooch, who is young and well capable of utilising his abilities, despite being small, building his stature can have a drastic affect on his style.
Jurgen Klinsmann, former Tottenham star and current US coach said: “He’s a very promising young player. We are really thrilled he’s breaking through one step at a time. Some games he starts from beginning, some games he comes off the bench, and we are thrilled about that.
“So far he’s doing really well and therefore he were now happy to have with us for the first time. We will now watch him in every training session and hopefully we can give him minutes in these two friendlies.”
The youngster is being tipped to play for the United States in the 2018 World Cup and considering his performances for Sunderland and how much he has played, his future looks really bright right.