Liverpool youngster ruled out of Champions League Final after ankle surgery
Having looked more than a little rusty in two games since returning from injury, it now appears that Joe Gomez was playing through the pain barrier, with the youngster now requiring season ending surgery. Against West Brom and Stoke City in the Premier League he looked as though he was playing within himself and was visibly flagging towards the ends at The Hawthorns. The youngster has clearly stepped up in the midst of an injury crisis and paid the price of missing what would have been the biggest game of his career to date.
This is the latest setback for the twenty year old, who will also miss the World Cup and a significant amount of Liverpool’s pre-season preparations. It is worrying that one of our most gifted youngsters has now had three seasons blighted by injury and appears to be the latest in a long line of full backs to hit by horrendous luck in a red shirt.
For years Liverpool fans have been crying out for a good left back. It has been the area of concern for a while, with only Andy Robertson playing there with the top class ability required for a club pushing for the major trophies. However a closer look at the opposite side of the pitch shows similar issues with personnel.
Going all the way back to Rob Jones and Vegard Heggem , we’ve had a number of gifted full backs on the right, who have succumbed to frustrating and in both cases, career ending problems. The noughties saw Marcus Babel cruelly struck down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome after a fine season in 2000-01. The German looked set for a legendary career in the Red shirt only to be hit by the debilitating illness which affects roughly one in a hundred thousand people. He returned but only as a shadow of the player he’d been and soon moved away for more game time.
Stability followed tinkering with the 2004 signing of Irishman Steve Finnan and three years later Alvaro Arbeloa, both provided consistency for the best part of a decade as Liverpool pushed for major honours at home and abroad.
Glenn Johnson arrived for big money in 2009 and after a reasonable start; it appeared he began competing annually with Martin Skrtel to see who could cost Liverpool the most goals / points in a season as we went from the top four to barely staying above mid-table. Some fans point to Johnson’s ability going forward, but a defender’s primary job is to sure up the back line, if they score three or four goals a season but give twelve away then that simply isn’t good enough. Hence Clyne’s signing in 2014 brining a refreshing ability for a full back to defend consistently. How he’ll end his career with less England caps than Johnson is a mystery. With Clyne and Gomez, we finally looked strong in that area again.
Youngsters take the hit
Frustratingly though, Gomez is now one in a line of three talented youngsters to play at full back for Liverpool to suffer serious injury setbacks. Martin Kelly really looked the part. Similar in a way to Gomez, he was a huge and an imposing figure who did the basics right all the time. At six foot three, he looked certain to make the transition to centre-halve. However serious knee injuries curtailed his promising career and by the time he came back to the fold after over year out, he looked way short of form and pace, slipping out of contention Kelly moved on to Crystal Palace.
Jon Flanagan was a different kettle of fish; he was an energetic full back, more than capable of joining in the Red’s breathless attacks in 2013-14, earning him comparisons to Brazilian legend Cafu. An able defender, quick across the ground and a local lad, the Kop took to him as did Steven Gerrard, with the former captain leading a dressing room ovation for the youngster following an exhilarating Merseyside Derby in autumn 2013.
Like Martin Kelly, he played his way into the England squad and after helping Liverpool to 2nd in 2014, the future looked bright. Roll on yet another serious knee injury and a season on the sideline which badly hindered the youngster’s development. Like Kelly, by the time he got back into the team, he looked short of form. The injuries had taken a lot from his game. Three years on and the fullback has faded into obscurity and been marred by shocking behaviour off the pitch. He looks to set to leave Liverpool by the backdoor.
The future still bright for Gomez
There is never a good time for injuries to strike. Even with the season drawing to a close, we should still be concerned for Gomez. He is likely to have a disjointed pre-season and rejoin the first team a few weeks or months behind everyone else. This has arguably exacerbated Daniel Sturridge in his injury savaged Liverpool career, and no doubt it can player drain morale and confidence as the team bonds and blends in their friendly fixtures and tours.
Gomez though is still very young and in Klopp he clearly has a manager who rates him. The youngster is strong in the challenge, reads the game well and is good in the air. Centre-half looks his more natural position and he performed brilliantly for England against Brazil earlier in the year, marking Neymar with the expertise of a seasoned top class defender.
We must hope that his injury isn’t as lasting as it seems. A cruciate knee ligament injury and now his ankle set back does not bode well, they are hardly short term knocks. However, his return to the first XI this season was a confident and convincing one after a long layoff. We’ll all be hoping for the same next season and a bucking of this unlucky trend.