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The making of Joe Gomez – Van Dijk’s equal and England captain in the making

If you were to design a centre-back from scratch – Frankenstein’s monster style – the finished product would look a bit like Joe Gomez.

He’s quick, he’s fast, and he’s got pace. Maybe 5% of you will actually get that reference, so for those who don’t, watch this from around 3:55.

In all seriousness Gomez is perhaps the complete modern defender and, still at just 22, has the world at his feet.


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In the zone

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In the zone

There have been momentous setbacks aplenty, setbacks that would eat away at the confidence of even the most resilient.

One cruciate ligament injury, one broken ankle and one shameful night at Wembley in November when he was booed by a small section of his own fans, Gomez has already taken a lot on the chin.

But those close to him never doubted his inevitable march to the very top, something he has illustrated emphatically with his form at Liverpool in the last couple of months.

Gomez was man of the match in the Club World Cup final

Reuters
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Gomez was man of the match in the Club World Cup final

Injuries to Joel Matip and then Dejan Lovren could have hampered their title charge, but with Gomez alongside Virgil van Dijk they have kept eight clean sheets in nine games and turned the race into a canter.

At the age of 16 Gomez, still just a scholar, was fast tracked into first-team training at Charlton when Chris Powell was Addicks manager.

Powell recalls watching Gomez from his office window putting in the extra hours, particularly on his heading, striving to get better and better with each day.

Powell played an integral part in Gomez’s development at Charlton

PA:Empics Sport
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Powell played an integral part in Gomez’s development at Charlton

“He was just what every manager would ever want from a player,” Powell told Dream Team.

“He always had good respect, was always on time and had this coolness and composure which he learnt from his family.

“When you’re young you need to learn to fit in and be part of the group and Joe did that so well.

“Even at 16 he had massive respect from the centre-backs at Charlton because they knew there was a player waiting in the wings if they weren’t playing well.

“We knew that as long as he was free from injury and had a run of games in any position it wouldn’t be long until the big teams came calling.”

Gomez initially played at left-back for Liverpool

EPA
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Gomez initially played at left-back for Liverpool

A Brendan Rodgers’ signing, Gomez was first deployed at left-back at Liverpool and excelled despite his unfamiliar surroundings.

He provides decent cover at right-back for Trent Alexander-Arnold too, but centrally is where he has found his calling.

Gomez’s middle name is Dave. Just Dave. No nonsense and no messing around, then?

Breaking into the Charlton first team at 17

PA:Empics Sport
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Breaking into the Charlton first team at 17

In reality he’s one of the most progressive centre-backs in the Premier League, comfortable with both feet and constantly thinking about the right forward pass.

Powell, who remains part of the England setup after recently taking a role as Alan Pardew’s number two at ADO Den Haag, added: “He’s the modern day centre back.

“He’s had a run recently and he and Van Dijk dovetail together brilliantly.

“You watch Liverpool now and if anything happens on Van Dijk’s side Joe’s positioning is good.

“He’s at the right place, at the right club, with the right manager. If you take that all on board why wouldn’t you develop?”

Gomez and Van Dijk have a phenomenal record together

Reuters
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Gomez and Van Dijk have a phenomenal record together

It is testament to Van Dijk’s extraordinary levels that Gomez, Matip and Lovren have all grown individually alongside him.

But of that trio Gomez undeniably has the highest ceiling.

He and Van Dijk have kept 14 clean sheets in 18 Premier League starts together since the beginning of last season, including five in a row as 2019 became 2020.

On Sunday, however, within the cauldron of a Merseyside derby cup tie, Gomez expertly marshalled a Van Dijk-less Reds to a memorable win over a full strength Everton side.

A towering display against Everton

Reuters
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A towering display against Everton

This was his coming of age moment, the day Gomez emerged from the Dutchman’s shadow and became the main man.

Gomez was comfortably the most experienced member of the back four at Anfield, yet Nat Phillips, his centre-back partner on Sunday, is actually two months his senior.

His form and fitness will offer huge encouragement to Gareth Southgate during an international tournament year.

The treatment back in November was despicable

Reuters
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The treatment back in November was despicable

The Catford-born star’s last experience with England was a tumultuous one, inexplicably greeted by jeers after an altercation with Raheem Sterling had boiled over during Liverpool’s clash with Man City.

But Gomez’s temperament suggests he more than has the minerals to overcome the naysayers – something Southgate will be relying on come June.

On current form the 22-year-old is easily England’s best centre-back and it should be he, not Harry Maguire nor John Stones, who the Three Lions’ defence is built around.

The altercation that sparked it

PA:Press Association
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The altercation that sparked it

He has the composure to suit Southgate’s possession-based system, the pace to operate with a high line and the aerial ability to dominate set pieces.

The south London talent factory is growing and England could feasibly have five players – Gomez, Jadon Sancho, Tammy Abraham, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi – at the Euros who grew up south of the Thames.

And his roots are not lost on Powell, with The Valley also spawning the careers of Ademola Lookman and Jonjo Shelvey in recent years.

“It was clear since he was 14 or 15 that he was going to be very special,” Powell adds.

“I’m really proud of Joe. He’s yet another academy product at Charlton and the club are also very proud of him.”

The way things are going 2020 could be a remarkable year for Gomez – and he’ll be a central figure to any success for both club and country.