Elegance, flair and beautiful hair – Wigan’s Spanish midfielder is all-too-often slated and criticised by so-called ‘fans’ of the club.
Embarrassing fans insist on destroying Gomez’ confidence, groaning as loud as they possibly can whenever he loses the ball. The groans change to delusional cheers when the number 14 lights up on the fourth official’s electronic board, delivering the killer blow to the playmaker’s self-esteem. Said ‘fans’ wonder, too, why he “plays so badly”. Where is the motivation to work hard when mistakes, which are inevitable in football, are to be met with insults and undeserved criticism? Such fans are the first to tell Gomez about a mistake he has made but are also the first to sing his praises when he fashions a killer pass through a defence – the word ‘fickle’ springs to mind.
Common shouts from members of the crowd, who annoyingly provide unwanted running commentaries, are “he’s too slow”, “he holds onto the ball for too long”, “he’s too lightweight”, “he’s a lazy bastard”.
“Jordi divides opinions because he represents a style of football. It is not just the way he is as a footballer, it is the style he represents. I was disappointed on Saturday, a little sector of the crowd couldn’t wait until the final whistle to look back on his performance and then assess it. I was so proud of the manner Jordi reacted to whatever was going on. He showed an incredible mental strength. He was a great example to any youngster at the ground wanting to arrive into the first team. Jordi’s performance and his handling of the occasion was a real example of how to be a professional footballer. The dressing room was very proud. You don’t want players who don’t have the warmth from the crowd. All he did is do everything he could to win the points for Wigan Athletic and I think a sector of the crowd should realise that.” – Roberto Martinez on Jordi Gomez’s hat-trick against Reading in 2012 after the player was booed by some fans for making mistakes early in the match.
My theory is that Gomez’ footballing mind functions too quickly for the players around him; that he is two steps ahead of everybody else. He waits for space to be opened like he has imagined just milliseconds before, but his teammates’ inability to think steps ahead means that Gomez is often caught spending ‘too much time’ on the ball. In countries such as Spain and Holland, players are coached into thinking steps ahead. Gomez, a product of La Masia – Barcelona’s youth academy, visualises scenarios unthinkable of that to the average footballer. Jordi needs to be surrounded by players who create the pictures he imagines. In the current squad, I can think of only Jean Beausejour who ‘reads the game’ in such a similar way to Gomez. The pair link up so seemlessly on the left flank when Gomez drifts wide, Beausejour getting in behind opposition defensive lines thanks to a Gomez pass with unnoticed regularity.
Off the ball, he is slated for “not tracking back” or not getting “stuck in”. Footballers can’t be in two places at once, they are just humans after all. How can a player be expected to press high up the pitch yet be in a defensive block by the time a pass has been made? His pressing often goes unrecognised due to the fans’ tendency to use him as a scapegoat when other players fail to apply the principles of cover and balance behind him. The way in which he presses, too, is overlooked. He looks to position his body in a way that makes passes predictable whilst also blocking off nearby passing options, a feature that the majority of his teammates cannot grasp: effective pressing. He might not always be strong in the tackle but that is hardly without reason, he would rather block a passing lane than lose a tackle and concede space behind him. He knows that he lacks physical strength. Knowing his own weaknesses allows him to hide them and manipulate them into a positive.
The pass at 00:45, the movement and the shot at 00:55 looks effortless. The pass at 01:26 epitomises Gomez’ thinking of steps ahead – look how long he waits for the run. The execution is beautiful.
His ability to get between the lines and in half spaces is probably the greatest aspect of his game, but again it is inconspicuous to a large sample of simple-minded Wigan fans who fall in and out of love with him. Tactically excellent, he knows when and where to create overloads, which is central to a possession-based philosophy: regularly dropping deep to create 4v2s or 3v2s to help the defenders when building up play, getting between the lines to offer a forward option and create a central overload, and, my personal favourite, drifting wide to create 2v1s or 3v2s. When Gomez drops off to provide an extra receiving line and a pressure relief, he has done so because he has thought of the next move. The amount of times Gomez switches the ball to McManaman or Beausejour to create a 1v1 is ridiculous, but again goes undetected by the crowd who instead focus on the ball receiver. When Gomez drifts wide to support the full back and winger, he has done so because he has thought of the next move. One-twos between Gomez and Beausejour to put the Chilean in behind opposition defensive lines are performed almost habitually, but praise is only given by the certain few fans who appreciate him.
A prominent feature of his game is his determination to protect the ball. He knows when to receive on the back foot, when to receive on the front foot, and knows how to win free kicks by placing his body between the opponent and the ball. His technique is unquestionable, striking the ball with such gracefulness each time he has it at his feet. It is like the ball is his friend, treating it with a respect that the English game lacks.
Gomez is far from the perfect player. He isn’t the paciest of players, he isn’t very strong, he might not be the most confident either, but his technique, positioning and movement, speed of thought and untainted resilience should be appreciated greatly. He is a unique player who has brought Wigan fans the greatest of joy, and admittedly some frustration but that, I believe, is because he is steps ahead of the players around him.
“English players don’t think until they have the ball at their feet. You have to give the ball at the right moment. In Holland we don’t think about the first man. We think of the third man, the one who has to run. If I get the ball, the third man can run immediately because he knows that immediately I will pass to the second man, and he will give it to him. If I delay, the third man has to delay his run and the moment is over. It is that special moment, that special pass.” – Arnold Muhren