By Lewis Rooke – @LV_Rooke
As the weeks go by, I’m expecting a bubble to burst. But no. Joe Gomez continues to defy my every misconception that young defenders at Liverpool are destined to fade away from the frontline.
Instead, our Joe has legitimately catapulted himself into the conversation regarding the world’s best defenders, and he deserves to be talked about as such.
My misconception was born out of the fact I see many similarities between Gomez and former young prodigy Andre Wisdom. I saw Wisdom play as a right back as a 19-year-old in the 2012/13 season, and saw a boy well beyond his years. A built frame to match any striker with a good turn of pace to boot, Wisdom had all the physical attributes cement a first team position for many years to come.
His performances at right back were very solid indeed, with with Englishman proving he can also read the game well, and I thought to myself: “With Carragher retiring, this boy is the heir to his throne at centre-back.”
With optimism spilling into the 2013/14 season, Wisdom seemed to drop off the Reds radar with a move to Derby County on loan. With Glen Johnson putting in very erratic performances, and Jamie Carragher hanging up his glorious boots, I wondered why the oh-so promising youngster that had performed admirably in the Premier League had been booted down a division to the Championship.
Wisdom’s star began to fade drastically, with an unspectacular move to West Brom followed by unsuccessful moves to Red Bull Salzburg and Norwich City, the Englishman finally found the exit door with a permanent return to Derby County.
Along came Joe Gomez in 2015, and I felt an uneasy sense of deja vu as he took to the first team. Expected to go into the youth squad initially, an 18-year-old Gomez found himself starting the Premier League season for Liverpool at left-back and performed admirably in Brendan Rodgers final days as Liverpool manager, showing both physical strength and pace just as Wisdom did.
But as Jurgen Klopp took over in the October of the very same season, Gomez was injured during the German’s first ever training session. I thought: “No way back for him, I’ve seen it all before, he’ll filter right back down the leagues never to be seen in red again.”
Lo and behold, Gomez didn’t play a single Premier League game in the 2016/17 season, and I almost saw my concerns realised. Yet still, the young man battled his way back into the first team picture the following season after some horrific luck with injuries that would end the careers of many less willing to fight.
In the 2017/18 campaign, the former Charlton Athletic man alternated the right-back slot along with Trent Alexander-Arnold and did so admirably, with his defensive expertise sometimes preferred to the more attacking edge that Alexander-Arnold possesses. This has stood Gomez in good stead for what truly has been one of the most impactful breakout years any Liverpool fan has ever seen.
The Reds came into this current season feeling relatively confident about their new found defensive ability. £75 million man Virgil van Dijk was proving to be worth every penny, Andy Robertson had achieved cult hero status, Trent Alexander-Arnold had become one of the best young full-backs in the world and the previously erratic Dejan Lovren seemed to have sewn his brain back into his skull by adding a Champions League and World Cup final to his CV.
However, with the Croat coming back to pre-season with an injury, it was time for Gomez to take his place alongside van Dijk in the starting lineup, with expectations weighing heavy.
About a quarter of the season in, Joe Gomez has arguably eclipsed the Dutchman van Dijk as the best defender at Liverpool. His turn of pace has turned into a jet engine that has swallowed up every striker in his path, with the Englishman also relishing a physical battle.
His ability to bring the ball out of the back is a rarity in any good defender these days, with the 21-year-old ticking every box on the ‘how to be a perfect defender’ checksheet. Add in a level of consistency that has seen Gomez make next-to-no mistakes, there is nothing to suggest he shouldn’t be in the conversation for the worlds best defender.
While those claims may seem premature, take a look at the supposed “worlds best” defenders in the likes of Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique. Neither of the three mentioned have shown anywhere near the level of consistency Gomez has this season.
They are also not as infallible as they seem from the outside, with some fans – including Liverpool’s – casting envious glances through a very rose-tinted window at the supposed creme de la creme of the defensive arts and wishing they could grace the Anfield turf. Yet in truth, it is our very own Joe Gomez who has eclipsed them all this season.
So be grateful. We are witnessing the rise of another special player, a “Rolls Royce” as they call it. Gomez has it all in the bag to nail-down the centre back position at Anfield for another decade, as the bubble that I expected to burst gets bigger and bigger.