Joe Gomez. 23. Champions League and Club World Cup Winner. Premier League Champion.
That makes for impressive reading. The former Charlton Athletic player has already built up a CV which proved to be beyond many a Liverpool stalwart. There are quite a few of these young Turks going around at the moment – those hauling in trophies that belie their tender ages – in Kylian Mbappé, Ousmane Dembélé, Alphonso Davies and Gomez’s own teammate in Trent Alexander-Arnold.
These players are hot property. The transfer fees they would command, even in a coronavirus adjusted market, would place them beyond the reach of anyone but the very elite. Dembélé may currently be on the fringes of selection at Barcelona but transfer rumblings around him suggest that there would be plenty of takers among the upper echelons of football. These are players who seem well aware of their own worth and project the confidence required to take on the world.
Which Gomez doesn’t, strangely enough. And neither is he considered a part of that elite group.
Granted these aren’t the best of times for a central defender, and another starlet in Matthijs de Ligt has found life tough at Juventus, but the Englishman betrays a certain tentativeness even five years into his career at Liverpool. The wait for him to stamp his authority on a squad that isn’t exactly teeming with talent in his position has been a frustrating one for most observers.
Gomez did appear 43 times in all competitions last season but a lot of that can be attributed to the unavailability of Joël Matip and Dejan Lovren for extended periods. With the Croatian having departed in the summer and Matip injured yet again, one would have expected the young Englishman to have started the season with greater confidence than he has.
He seems to be a player who struggles to impose himself on games and perhaps, a dressing room. Conor Coady, a new entrant into the England setup, has already been hailed for the kind of positive and communicative influence that Gomez should have cemented by now. It is instructive that Raheem Sterling, the instigator and culprit in a bust-up between the two players last year, emerged stronger from that incident. Gomez has since spoken about how the incident troubled him deeply and how he was more ‘stand-offish’ with people as a result.
This is a pity because he has all the attributes of a world-class centre-back. His pace, strength, athleticism and ability to carry the ball into midfield make him the quintessential modern defender. Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool clearly expect him to step up this season given their reluctance to dip into the transfer market in the summer.
Virgil Van Dijk’s knee injury might change that line of thinking and a defender should find his way into the club in January. The interim period provides Gomez with a real opportunity. While Van Dijk’s absence will be felt acutely by the supporters and the club, Gomez has mostly progressed in the slipstream of his more illustrious partner. They are extremely close friends off the field and the senior player is clearly a mentor of sorts. Without the Dutchman around, an opportunity presents itself for the young Englishman to establish himself both as a player and as a leader within the Reds setup.
England are currently facing a centre-back crisis with none of the top domestic teams providing standout options for the national team. In an era characterized by such paucity, It is inconceivable that a player of Gomez’s ability only has eleven caps for his country. This may be partly down to Gareth Southgate’s tactics, but the player does not help himself with inconsistent performances.
However, let us also not forget that he is still very young. His prime years are ahead of him and a defender is very rarely a finished article at his age. The ceiling on his potential is sky high by all accounts and if he finds a way through the problems currently limiting him, all the early hype will finally be justified.
His friend’s misfortune opens the door for him to kick on though, and he has to grab it with both hands. He may have a few trophies under his belt but after playing a bit part role in those title wins, he should aspire to be the titular character in all future success.