The life of a professional footballer feels like the worst kind of stress I can possibly imagine. When you think about how your ability to reach the heights of your profession being directly correlated on things that you can’t control but somehow are tied to you as an individual, it feels an impossibly heavy mental burden.
For example, let’s say you were signed as a top prospect from a foreign league to play for a Premier League club like Chelsea. Maybe you were called the Messi of your home country, but you’re joining a club that despite its relatively recent success is a bit of a mess. The coach that was key to your recruitment is gone. The club has an aging legend competing with you for a space. And you’re still adjusting to life in a new country.
Even if you remove the high-bar posed by being someone immigrating into England, the tumultuous nature of Premier League life would pose a struggle for many folks. Which is what makes Joe Gomez’s story this season so remarkable.
In his time since breaking through into the first team at Liverpool, Joe Gomez has seen a managerial change, overcome a major injury, and seen his reputation be downgraded from top-level prospect to fringe player. He’s also been asked to change positions from center-back to right-back, a move which helped to facilitate the experiment of Trent Alexander-Arnold at midfield and provide the necessary defensive grit behind Trent. He’s also been an able deputy at fullback, culminating in him filling in for Kostas Tsimikas after the Greek defender injured his collarbone against Arsenal.
Joe Gomez has overcome so much, with many in the fanbase seeing him as dispensable not too long ago to now being an integral swing-sub across multiple positions. When he deputized TAA in a spot-start at right-back, he even took up the role of moving into midfield. And after shaking off some rust/shock at being moved to the left, he finished the Arsenal match strong by providing a decent amount of vertical thrust, which led him to putting on two decent shots at the Arsenal goal.
I’m a sucker for stories like Joe’s and for characters like him. And while I am certainly guilty of wondering why Klopp might have wanted to keep a player that looked like he’d only merit about 5th on the depth chart at his preferred position and whose best days looked like they’d passed him by, it’s pretty clear now that Joe Gomez is a quintessential Klopp player: trusting in the system, eager to go where the team needs, and quietly working to prove themselves when the time comes.
I don’t know how long this ride will last. And I’m certain there are going to be some inevitable wobbles if JoeGo has to continue racking up minutes on wings of our defensive line. But I’ll always appreciate this period in his Liverpool career. It’s one that, I feel, perfectly encapsulates what the fanbase adores: a worker toiling quietly and producing something wonderful.
I wrote earlier of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah etching their names into the all-time book of legends. What JoeGo is doing is writing his name - ever so lightly and perhaps with pencil - into the book of club cult heroes. The names that folks use to distinguish casual fans from the lifers. The ones we’ll give knowing nods of approval when their name pops up on a jersey. The ones that never leave because they’ve managed to carve that humble space into some of our hearts.