Belfast Telegraph

Gomez aims to make most of Reds return after his injury hell

By Simon Hughes

It might have seemed that Joe Gomez's professional world had folded just five days after Jürgen Klopp's appointment at Liverpool.

There Gomez was: getting games at left back under the previous manager Brendan Rodgers, aged just 18 and looking the part: careering up the pitch representing England's under-21s against Kazakhstan…

Suddenly, a twinge in his knee…worried looks, a substitution, crutches and a scan. X-rays confirmed the diagnosis dreaded by all footballers: the twinge was, in fact, his anterior cruciate ligament tearing. This happened nearly 15 months ago. Gomez hasn't played in a competitive second of football since.

It is almost certain he will return to Liverpool's first team tomorrow for their FA Cup third round tie at Anfield with Plymouth Argyle, with Klopp conceding yesterday "it wouldn't be the biggest surprise if he's in the line-up".

At Melwood a day earlier, Gomez acknowledged the road to recovery has not been without potholes. And yet, you trust him when he insists the experience has made him a stronger person and, therefore, it might make him a better player than he was before.

"It was tough at times and there were phases when I felt like everything was against me," he admitted.

"Now looking back at it, it was a big year for me to learn: to gain faith in myself. I am thankful that I came through it and that it's behind me.

"It certainly has made me mentally stronger. I look upon things differently. I am a different person. When you have experienced something like that, you don't take things for granted any more.

"It gives you a different perspective. I see it as a blessing that I was able to learn from it.

"You can get caught up in a lot of things playing for Liverpool. The main thing is to stay grounded. That's something I won't forget. I know it can get taken away from you in an instant with an injury like that.

"The key is to stay level headed - not get too high with the highs. At the same time, you need to stay strong when things aren't going your way.

"I've realised that being healthy and having the opportunity to play isn't something that everyone has all the time. I am lucky to be able to do something I enjoy."

The teen's friendship with Danny Ings has become extremely close as a result of shared troubles. Ings sustained the same injury on exactly the same week and after making his Liverpool comeback against Tottenham in October, broke down again.

"I saw how hard Ingsy worked and he didn't deserve that to happen," Gomez says. "But if anyone can deal with it, it's him."

Gomez's maturity was marked at 15 when he chose to sign for Charlton Athletic. Gomez's father is Gambian, his mother is English, he also has a twin brother and a sister. They lived in Catford and the value of being closer to home in GCSE year was understood.

Despite it being widely reported that Borussia Dortmund - and Klopp - tried to sign him from Charlton, Gomez says the supposed approach from Germany was one that he "wasn't too aware of".

One of the main reasons Klopp is prepared to let Lucas Leiva leave Liverpool this month is because of the progress made by Gomez since returning to training in October.

With Mamadou Sakho also on the verge of leaving the club, there is every chance Gomez will get his chance in some league fixtures between now and the end of the season.

"There are big physical demands being in this team," Gomez says. "I'm back but not properly yet. There's still a lot of hard work to be done but having been out for so long I am just really grateful to have this opportunity."

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