Young defenders. If there’s one thing Liverpool fans should know by now, it is young defenders. They’ve had a never ending conveyor belt of them over the years. From Gabriel Paletta to Emiliano Insua, Mikel San Jose to Sebastian Coates, the list is pretty extensive, which can make fans wary of jumping on the hype bandwagon when the latest defensive prodigy comes along.
No doubt tempted to do so with Tiago Ilori two summers ago, the latest youngster thrust into the limelight with some impressive pre-season performances is Joe Gomez.
The word when Liverpool went on their annual pre-season tour was that Gomez and the aforementioned Tiago Ilori would be competing for a first team place, with the other one being condemned to a loan deal. The far-flung tour was Gomez’s chance to get an advantage over the competition and put himself in Brendan Rodgers’ plans, and he did so with aplomb. During an interview in Asia, Rodgers confirmed that Gomez would not be sent out on loan and would instead be competing in the first team squad moving forward, a quote that went under the radar for many, but undoubtedly meant the world to the 18 year old defender.
A summer acquisition from Charlton Athletic, the hulking defender has impressed fans and instantly become the second best left back at the club following his performances against Thai All-Stars, Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United. If he’s that good when the games don’t matter, just imagine just how good he’ll be when he’s up against the best in England, and then in Europe.
Despite the impressive start however, it's far from a given that the 18 year old Gomez will have the perfect season. The fans taking to him instantly will help, and it’s great to see another young prospect coming through with the full, stereotypically overboard, backing of the fan base. Because of this he’ll inevitably be cut some slack if he makes mistakes, which is a natural process of being a young defender.
Unless Liverpool want to buy world class talent in every position, youth development is going to have to happen. I’d sooner see a young defender learning from a mistake than see the experienced Martin Skrtel making yet another inexplicable shirt pull from a corner.
With Joe Gomez, Liverpool have a player who is far ahead of most defenders his age with a season of first team football in the Championship already under his belt. It’s likely that next season will mostly entail domestic cup football and sporadic Premier League appearances for Gomez, and it’s now up to him to prove his superiority over young defenders of past Liverpool squads.