Joe Gomez exceeded all expectations, arriving for a bargain £3.5M fee from Charlton over the summer before impressing enough in training and pre-season to start the season at left back for Liverpool. That it was perhaps a touch misguided by then-manager Brendan Rodgers to start an 18-year-old right-footed centre half on the left over natural left back Alberto Moreno is a fair point.
It shouldn't, though, take away from just how impressive the youngster looked despite that he was playing out of position and on his weaker foot, at least in the early going. When teams began to target him his form began to sag, but still there was enough on show to think this was a player with a long and bright future ahead of him at the club—even if starting from day one might have been a touch ambitious in retrospect.
That bright future, though, was put in doubt when Gomez landed awkwardly in a match with the England U21 side, rupturing his ACL and forcing the young defender to undergo surgery. It was a harsh blow, and now he faces a year on the sidelines and an uncertain future. At just 18 years of age, he does at least have time on his side. He also has teammate Lucas Leiva, who suffered a similar injury four years ago.
"From the start he came in and said to me, ‘I've done this before, I know what you're going through,'" Gomez told the Liverpool Echo today, the young defender making his first public comments following the injury and subsequent surgery. "Lucas has been brilliant in terms of giving me advice and keeping me positive. Every day I see him he talks me through this stage of the injury and how it went for him."
Lucas is an illustration of just how difficult it can be to come back from an ACL injury—but also of the fact that it is possible, no matter the setbacks or complications. And even if it takes Gomez as long to recover fully as Lucas did, he will still only be 21 or 22 by the time he's physically back to his best. It's a blow, clearly, but it doesn't have to be the end of Gomez' career, and it's an injury plenty of players have overcome.
Gomez' situation, and Lucas' role as the club's most senior player following the departure of Steven Gerrard over the summer, also highlight the importance of having such strong, supportive, veteran players in the squad. Lucas has long been one of the leaders at Melwood, often cited as a mentoring figure by Liverpool's youngsters, and it's both comforting and not in the least surprising he's taken Gomez under his wing.
"There have been times when you think the knee won't be able to bend the same as it did, and he's been there to reassure me," added Gomez. "Everything he's told me so far about what to expect has been spot on, [and] seing how he was able to get back playing at the highest level spurs me on. Its great to have someone around who has been through the same thing."