As the misguided saying goes, money changes everyhing. Get a big enough pile and it can even change a worldview, can convert a young player trying to fit in, to a waste.
“Andre Gomes has very good qualities to continue to grow and be an important player. He’s at the best place to do it.”
— Andres Iniesta
So, what of this? What of the idea that some dude who doesn’t know a whole lot about what it takes to be a Barça midfielder thinks about a player who most believe to be a waste of money?
A favorite voice on Twitter, Ramzi (@footballmood), said when Gomes was signed that he was going to take some time, but has the talent to become something special. Even if the multitudes aren’t that interested in seeing it, Gomes has frequently displayed flashes of that potential. When Thierry Henry came to Barça, he was already a football legend. He struggled his first year. Eric Abidal, now considered an icon, was in his own words crap for his first season.
Thiago Alcantara, now considered one of the best mids in the world was, at Barça, a mess compared to the incumbents who were his real measuring stick. You could see him come on for Xavi and watch the chaos ensue, even as you could also see the immense talent that he had, and the potential to become what he is today.
It’s easy to forget that Gomes is 23 years old. Xavi and Iniesta weren’t Xavi and Iniesta at 23. They were young midfielders learning the game and how it is to be played at Barça. Gomes has a number of problems, none of which he can do a damned thing about, almost all related to perception and lack of patience by a fanbase accustomed to a certain standard. Then there’s the money thing. It’s worth considering what the view of Gomes would be had he not cost what he did, a sum that acclimates supporters to anticipate sure things and immediate improvements, even as we have seen, time and again, the acclimation difficulties.
What would the view of Gomes be if he was a Masia product? We have some indication of this in the view of Sergi Samper, a player who isn’t even starting for bottom-feeding Granada but whom so many believe has the quality to just walk right into the best XI in football. This isn’t a knock on Samper, who has the capability for more than he is showing. Instead it’s an observation about perception, talent and price.
Imagine a six-foot-plus mid coming out of La Masia, with the skills Gomes has. He would “just need time,” and we would hope that he isn’t kept from blossoming at the hands of the wrong coach. He would be considered a natural sub for, and heir to Busquets. Instead he cost 35m, and is struggling. What a waste, goes the general worldview.
What would the view of Gomes be if he was less expensive, say, the price of Denis Suarez, a player also struggling, who gets nothing approximating the venom received by Gomes.
During the recent internationals, Gomes started for Portugal against Hungary, and seemed a different player, even as you could see the same qualities that made him attraactive for the Barça braintrust — physicality, calm on the ball, feet that belie a man his size, the ability to play the right ball. Going a bit deeper into this, lots of players can play a pass. What will make or break an attack is how the pass is played. Does the ball hit the teammate at the boots, or does it glide into space, easily controlled and in stride?
For Portugal, Gomes played a role similar to Busquets’, that non-holding holding mid who can defend, intercept passes and always facilitate the attack. Gomes isn’t Busquets. No player in world football is. But that doesn’t mean the position and need should be abdicated.
Gomes has had his best matches for Barça in that role, and it’s easy to see why. His attributes are similar to Busquets. He has soft feet that can take a pass. He also moves well on the ball, and can make defenders miss. His height means that he can see over the fray, can see potential passing angles that other players might miss.
If you remember Gomes at Valencia, his role was similar to Sevilla Rakitic. He was up the pitch, making runs into the box, going for the end line, making defenders miss and crossing, shooting and scoring goals, playing through balls.
But Barça already has players who can do these things, so what the heck IS Gomes’ role?
Rakitic came from Sevilla and shone for the same reason Dani Alves did: he slid into a part written for him. Other players, who struggle, are working to fit an existing template. Note that once Alves left and the role of Rakitic changed, people started talking about his game differently, not understanding the new job he had.
The reality is that we have almost no idea what Gomes’ role is, because he’s still working to fit into a team of mutants. La Masia trains speed. Not physical speed, but speed with the ball. A player works at the physical acuity that can control time, the first touch that provides time and space to do what comes next, the mental acuity to already know what comes next. It’s why Messi is supernatural, why Iniesta seems to float about the pitch, more seer than midfielder. It takes years to get that nous, yet we expect new transfers to walk in the door with it, if they are expensive enough.
Neymar cost a small fortune. Neymar also showed up and the coaches said, “Do what you do.” Luis Enrique decided to develop him, press him, make him more. Look at the quality of his associative play and defending now, compared to when he arrived. Streets ahead. It took the second-best player in world football, a massive talent, three years to work into the system. And he is still improving. What can we possibly expect from Gomes?
During matches, he lives in the crucible, the midfield. It’s a packed area in which geniuses live. Busuets gets the ball and does some thing. Off it goes. Iniesta takes a pass, spins, moves, off it goes. Gomes takes a pass and hesitates. In that time, everything changes, even perception. Slow on the ball, easily dispossessed, etc. What is he is developing the speed of thought, the facility that Iniesta has identified? What if Andre Gomes is what he is, a hugely talented player struggling to meet the standard set by a team of geniuses, who have been raised learning to play that way?
What would a 23-year-old Iniesta do in the Barça midfield of today? How would he be judged compared to the current standards that have been established by legends? It’s a valid ask. Even more valid is what do we expect from transfers? Of course, every supporrer expects instant excellence. But how often does that happen? Usually it’s a gradual bedding in, unti. suddenly one match, people say, “Hey, where did this player come from,” forgetting that he has been there all along, learning to become that player.
Time and patience is how young players develop. We willingly grant that time to youth players, then become miserly with it when it comes to transfers. Gomes is a 23-year-old midfielder who starrs for his national team. He is also, like any new, wet behind the ears employee at a successful company, a goggle-eyed neophyte. A big fee doesn’t alter the rigidity of that formula.