Joe Gomez – A New Breed of Defender
The £3.5m Liverpool paid for 18 year old Joe Gomez back in 2015 might have seemed abit steep at the time, especially when you take into account the fact that we splashed-out a mere £500k more for the best defender to ever grace British shores a year later.
Joe’s now worth £25.2m so put that in your prudish, tight-arse pipes and smoke it.
I am big fan of Joe, and his ilk of player, and I’ll tell you why. Apart from being, as they say – a ‘fucking tremendous’ footballer, Joe Gomez also displays something we haven’t seen too much of in English defenders: style, grace, and athleticism.
Take John Terry, for example; you wouldn’t trust him around your Mrs or in a foot-race but you could be sure he would put himself in the way of every shot, cross, pass, or successful marriage. That’s an English defender. Harry McGuire might be the more modern example.
No, my kind of defenders are the ones that receive the ball under pressure, take an extra touch, decide the long pass isn’t on and go for a run into the middle third. Think Rio Ferdinand as a rare English example of this. Alan Hansen or Franco Baresi as the absolute pinnacle.
And before you drop your kecks and ready your turds to throw at me – no, I’m not saying Joe is, or will ever be as good as those three were.
What I am saying though, is that Joe Gomez is a member of that species
Liverpool Academy Director, Alex Inglethorpe, was the man expected to over-see the move for Gomez. And despite £3.5m in the post-Neymar economic market being equivalent to 3.5 packets of Space Invaders, it was – at the time, a considerable amount of money to pay for a relatively unknown 18 year old centre-half.
Joe Gomez spent seven years with Charlton Athletic, and has represented England in every age group.
The Charlton Academy have blessed the world with perennial ‘does the job’ player, Scott Parker and ‘does fuck all’ “player”, Paul Konchesky – so I suppose that’s something.
The point is, it’s not like Joe received world-class coaching from the cradle or anything.
When he turned 17, Gomez was given his chance in the first-team. The 2014/15 season for Charlton was not really one to tell your Ma’ about – they won 14, lost 14, finished in 12th place, right in the middle – a complete waste of time for all concerned. Except for Joe, of course.
His 24 appearances that year – mostly from right-back (13), but also centre-back (9), and even left-back (2), had turned the heads of a few potential suitors. And none more so than that of Liverpool. The Redmen quickly agreed a deal and Gomez was doing the Melwood lean before you could say “the Addicts had had it”.
As it turned out, the main-man-but-not-for-long Brendan Rodgers actually orchestrated the deal and Gomez found himself slap-bang in the middle of a Premier League first-team squad. He was the direct replacement for dodgy – except for that one overhead kick – Uruguayan Sebastian Coates.
So there we were, the beginning of the 2015/16 season, and everyone is excited about our new super-keeper Adam Bogdan. But wee Brendan, forever the rogue, decides to play Joe at left-back. Alright, let’s see what happens. Who am I to tell the man with the ‘envelopes’ what to do?
Three games, two wins, three clean sheets. Ok, this isn’t so bad. Who’s next? West Ham at Anfield, easy.
“The left-back is a good young player who can’t kick with his left foot but he is playing at left-back. He’s a fantastic talent, strong, quick. But what will he give you on the left? He is on the wrong side.”
You listen here, Walrus-tits. Just because you’re eternally bitter and hateful because your only son – the apple of your eye – loves Liverpool more than he does his own father; and just because you might, maybe, perhaps, be a little bit correct – that doesn’t give you the right to have a pop.
Despite Harry Redneck’s clearly correct observation about Gomez – an 18 year old in his debut season in the toughest league in the world, occupying his weakest, most unfamiliar position – Rodgers (being Rodgers) played him in that same position for Liverpool’s next league game against Man United.
We lost 3-1, Benteke scored a beauty, and there’s not much more to say about that. Gomez was then dropped for Moreno (imagine), and three games later Rodgers is off, Klopp is in and all is right with the world.
Due to the successful year Gomez had enjoyed with Charlton, he earned himself a call-up for the England u21 team in early 2015. At just 17, he was one of the youngest men in the squad.
His third appearance for the Young Lions saw him face Kazahkstan in a routine qualifier for the Euro’s. It was an unremarkable game for Joe until – with 10 minutes left to play – an innocuous challenge left him in noticable pain. He had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and faced 12 months of rehab. He immediately flew back to Merseyside, and the club doctors, to have a scan.
Because this absolute swindle of fate had coincided with Klopp’s arrival at Liverpool, Gomez actually received confirmation of his injury, and the timescale of his recovery, only 15 minutes before meeting his new gaffer.
This is something that Joe spoke about with James Pearce in 2017:
“The first time Jurgen spoke to me was the thing that stuck with me the most,”
“I had just come back from the scan and he told me to stay positive. He just told me not to stress about it. It was nice of him to take that time as it was an important moment (for him)”
“It was frustrating the timing of it. Having a new manager come in and not being able to get involved.
“But all the way through the manager sat down with me and asked how I was feeling, mentally more than anything. For the physical side of things, he could just speak to the medical team. He spoke to me when he needed to and it helped.”
If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about Jürgen – the man who puts the ‘human element’ before the footballer, who instilled the greatest spirit among the Liverpool players since the glory-days, and who has built (and is actively building) the best Liverpool team I’ve ever seen – then nothing will.
Joe also went on to remark on how the injury had affected him and this, I feel, is very important in our exploration of why Joe Gomez is a little bit special –
“It was tough at times. There were phases when I felt like everything was against me,”
“But I always believed I would come back. I am thankful that I came through it and that it’s behind me now.”
“I look upon things differently, I am a different person. When you have experienced something like that, you don’t take things for granted any more. I see it as a blessing that I was able to learn from it in the way I did”
“You can get caught up in a lot of things playing for Liverpool. The main thing is to stay grounded. That’s something I won’t forget.
“I know it can get taken away from you in an instant with an injury like that. The key is to stay level headed – not get too high with the highs and stay strong when things aren’t going your way.
“Being healthy and having the opportunity to play isn’t something that everyone has all the time. I am lucky to be able to do something I enjoy doing.”
A quick reminder – this sage advice, which is absolutely applicable to anybody, from any walk of life, was uttered by a (then only 19 year old) footballer.
Just one month after returning from the rupture, he suffered from achilles tendinopathy, a common condition that can occur when recovering from long term injuries, and was out for another three months – missing 15 additional games for Liverpool.
“Perseverance is stubbornness with a purpose”
Quite right, Joe.
When he finally did return to full training in October 2016, he was met with a round of applause from his team-mates. On this, Gomez said:
“it meant alot.”
“It just says a lot about the club and the boys and the family vibe this place has.
“I was grateful for that because I didn’t expect it and it wasn’t anything that someone had to do for me. I was thankful. It was a touching moment for me.”
This isn’t really relevant to anything but it might make you smile, it certainly worked for me at least.
He spent much of the remaining seven months of the 2016/17 season getting himself back up to speed with the u23 squad, making only three appearances for the first-team – all in the FA cup.
While preparing for the first of these appearances, against Plymouth Argyll (this was the time the interview was conducted), Gomez said:
“I am grateful for the chance and I need to use it wisely. I missed 13 months of not being able to learn under the manager.
“I’ll try to develop as a player and get a good understanding for the way the team plays. It is different watching to actually getting instructions. The last couple of months have been good for me and I feel like I have progressed.
“I had a lot of time to prepare myself mentally for when I did come back and when I had the second setback it kind of put the original injury behind me. Now I am back I don’t really think about it or fear it in any way. You don’t want to be on the pitch worrying. I am just enjoying playing.”
Are you beginning to see the trend here?
The mental strength, self awareness and understanding of what is best for himself as a man and as a young, promising footballer, is simply astounding. It is this attitude, and intelligence, that – when coupled with his clear and evident raw and natural talent – has led to the kind of assured and graceful performances we have seen so far this season.
So back to my outlandish comparisons with the likes of Hansen and Baresi. What makes a top-class defender in the mold of these two heroes? Two of the best to have ever kicked a ball.
Pace, power, positional awareness and intelligence, timing, strength, confidence and composure – Joe Gomez has them in bagfuls.
Here is the most recent example:
Joe Gomez é um pouquinho rápido pic.twitter.com/0II90hmRoG
— . (@LuizFSantoss) October 25, 2018
It’s Liverpool vs Crvena Zvezda and the Serbian team have broken through the middle.
Serbian midfielder Branko Jovičić isn’t particularly known for his speed but he’s got a clear march on Gomez. Notice how he’s always favourite for this ball and it’s moving directly into his stride. The midfielder is odds-on to get there first.
Gomez, at full sprint, throws himself into the anticipated space and looks like he might need to make a Lovren-esque sliding challenge but simply gets there first and dribbles the ball away from the attacking player and wins the goal-kick. He makes it look so simple, so uninteresting, like there was never anything to worry about.
Here is a clip from the game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge:
We can see Virgil doing the bulk of the defending here as Willian is his man to mark. Gomez is actually covering at right-back after Trent Arnold got caught upfield with his pants down. Virgil does as Virgil usually does and gets back to make a surgically clean tackle, but look at Gomez.
When he sees the danger, he immediately leaves his winger and breaks into a sprint, closing the space in half a second. He doesn’t try to make a challenge, but allows van Dijk – his trusted partner to commit. Gomez instead leans in towards Willian moments before Virgil nicks the ball. The Chelsea man can do absolutely nothing in this situation. It’s a perfect example of two centre-backs working together to diffuse danger. It’s magnificent.
This is from England’s recent game in Spain:
The first instance shows Joe underneath a high ball marking Marco Asensio. It’s a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment, and the kind that happens repeatedly during a game with nobody really noticing. But it’s significant for two reasons; it’s a very high looping ball and these tend to be quite hard to properly judge – Gomez decides quickly on where he thinks the ball will land and ushers Asensio out of this space.
When the ball finally arrives, he is able to take two steps back into the empty space without a challenge by (the now out of position) Asensio. It’s a subtle move, but intelligent and very effective.
The other reason for it’s significance is the display of raw strength and knowledge in using his body to lever and manipulate the position of the opposition player.
The second example is a move involving Álvaro Morata in a more dangerous offensive area.
Morata has been pretty terrible at Chelsea but he is a dangerman, and he is very good in the air. He’s 6″2′ and is favourite to win this ball seven yards from goal. Gomez has no chance of winning the header and making the clearance so he does the next best thing – he ensures that it is very difficult for Morata to win it either.
Using his body weight to shift the position of the attacker, Gomez forces Morata into an unnatural stance, making it almost impossible to either direct the header at goal, or to generate any power.
It is, again, incredibly subtle, and demonstrates either superb natural knowledge of defensive nuances or excellent defensive coaching.
The final example comes courtesy of the nicest man on Twitter:
This tackle from Joe Gomez, well, it’s simply stupendous!
— Ben Webb (@BenWebbLFC) September 2, 2018
This was against Leicester and demonstrates three main attributes – positional awareness, perfect timing of a challenge, and the absolute need to prevent a goal. Kind of like John Terry minus the scumbaggery.
James Maddison, the jinky little fucker, somehow escapes the shackles of van Dijk and looks set to score have his shot miraculously saved by Alisson. Gomez is covering the space behind his partner, as he should.
When Maddison breaks through, there isn’t much either defender can do. But Gomez, throwing his balls to the wall, steams into the space between attacker and ‘keeper, and times a full-stretch block so perfectly, they should have him checked as a possible cyborg.
Here’s a bonus clip for you:
This one comes without any context but it was on his England debut, he was awarded man of the match and it looks fucking cool. So enjoy it and make of it what you will.
These are just a minuscule selection of the type of defensive plays Joe Gomez regularly makes during his games for club and country.
Of course I am aware that compilations or three-second clips do not make a great player, but they do indicate small portions of what great players do. He’s 21 – he will make mistakes, cost us goals and infuriate us; but I bet he won’t do it very often. And he will do it less and less often as the years go-by.
If you want to see more of Gomez, there are countless examples of him demonstrating far more than I have documented here – go ahead and knock yourself out. Examples of his passing, vision, movement, heading, and dribbling ability are all available and you will be impressed, I can assure you.
So he’s a very good player, we’ve seen that. He is mentally a very strong person, I’ve explained that. So what’s next?
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the contribution that the Catford lad, Joe Gomez, has made to the best defense in Europe. I repeat – Liverpool FC have the best defense in Europe!
Cheers Joe, for playing your part in this. And remember folks – “Perseverance is stubbornness with a purpose”
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