Can Everton be André Gomes's new lease on life?

The 25-year-old has come a long way already in his career but has yet to truly find his place.

Lyndon Lloyd 21/10/2018 0comments  |  Jump to last

It’s well over two months since he signed on loan from Barcelona but Everton might finally get their first glimpse of André Gomes in a blue jersey this weekend.

The 25-year-old was secured in a loan deal on what proved to be an exciting transfer deadline day on 9th August but a hamstring injury sustained during pre-season and a subsequent relapse last month have delayed his introduction to an expectant fanbase… until now, it seems, after Marco Silva declared him “completely fit”.

Whether that means he will walk straight into the starting XI against Crystal Palace remains to be seen — soft tissue problems are often best suited to being eased back into full action — but there is little doubt that there will be plenty of anticipation around Gomes’s debut. And it’s safe to say, also, that Gomes himself will be itching to begin a new chapter in his career that he hopes will prove altogether more fulfilling than the last, one which has carried its fair share of anguish and introspection on his part.

Seasoned observers of Spanish and Portuguese football might already have good idea of what the 25-year-old can bring to Goodison Park but for the majority of Blues fans, Gomes is likely to be very much an unknown quantity. YouTube highlight reels of the Portuguese showcase a player who can produce deft and occasionally mesmerising footwork on the ball, impressive anticipation off it and sufficient physical presence to suggest that he should be able to cope with the rigours of the Premier League.

Such hand-picked clips are, of course, designed to make the star in question look as good as possible and, as anyone who viewed those of Oumar Niasse prior to his £13.5m move from Lokomotiv Moscow would attest, they can be very misleading. Still, in demonstrating what the player is capable of on his day, Gomes’s reels offer plenty of evidence to support why Barcelona paid Valencia £29m for his services in 2016. He looks to be an incredibly gifted player.

It’s fair to say, however, that his spell at the Nou Camp did not go according to plan and he struggled to reproduce his best form on what is one of European football’s most demanding stages. It didn’t help, of course, that he was often tasked with replacing one of the greatest midfielders ever to play the game in the form of Andres Iniesta and, as he admitted in an interview with Panenka magazine, extracts of which were published by The Independent last March, Gomes struggled horribly with the psychological battle.

Describing the cycle of self doubt and sub-standard performances for Barcelona as “a kind of hell”, the Grijó-born man admits to feeling ashamed at his failure to make the grade thus far with the Blaugrana. His lack of game time ultimately cost him a place in Portugal’s World Cup squad and it was his fear of missing out on Russia that prompted him to ask Ernesto Valverde to let him leave during the transfer window last January.

“I don’t feel good on the pitch,” he said. “I am not enjoying what I am doing. The first six months were pretty good but then things changed … I have started to feel more pressure. The feeling that I have during games is bad.

"On more than one occasion, I didn't want to leave my house because [of the way] people look at you; you have fear of going on the street out of shame.

"My friends tell me I am going with the handbrake on; I close myself off; I don't take allow myself to get rid of the frustration I have. Then I don't talk to anybody, I don't bother anyone. It is like I feel ashamed.

"Thinking too much has hurt me. I think about the bad things and what I have to do. Although my teammates help me a lot, the things don't work out the way they want them to work out."

The role and importance of confidence can be very much underestimated in modern football and at its most severe, the mental side of the game can be hugely debilitating. Based on the midfielder’s own words then, it seems as though that was the case for André Gomes and it would explain, perhaps, why he was named La Liga’s worst signing in a Marca poll at the end of the 2016-17 season and why some Barça fans on social media were saying this past summer that they couldn’t believe their luck that Everton were taking not one but three of their under-performing stars off their hands.

Like Gomes, Yerry Mina has yet to play in a competitive game for the Blues but Lucas Digne has already emerged as one of the better additions to the English league this season, slotting in seamlessly as Leighton Baines’s successor at left back and earning a recall to the France squad as a result. It suggests that while one environment — in this case, the Spanish league and, arguably, the biggest club the world — might not be suited to some players, the Premier League very much could be.

Indeed, in that sense, with his Iberian origins, trickery on the ball and struggles to find his ideal place in life, Gomes is evocative in many ways of Mikel Arteta, a player who was also signed on loan from La Liga but who went on to become one of the most admired, important and cherished Everton players of the Premier League era.

Unlike the best little Spaniard we knew who had gone back to Real Sociedad via a short stint in Scotland with Rangers, Gomes was highly sought after by some high-profile English teams, including Tottenham and Arsenal, which makes his capture something of a coup for Marco Silva and Marcel Brands.

If his initial interviews and humorous interaction with Evertonians on social media are any indication, however — like Richarlison, Bernard, Mina and Digne, he has been quick to engage with supporters and have a laugh with his new team-mates — Gomes appears ready to grab the opportunity of a fresh start with both hands.

With that comes the hope that he can be the missing link in an Everton midfield that hasn’t quite passed muster so far this season. Idrissa Gueye’s tireless and tenacious work patrolling in front the back four has been crying out for a more cultured, dynamic presence alongside him and Gomes’s pedigree suggests he could be it.

With the added bonus of two former Barça team-mates at Finch Farm and fellow countrymen as his new manager and coaches — Silva has described Gomes as someone he knows very well and the Portugal connection can’t be overlooked — his Goodison switch could yet be the making of a player who had a glittering future ahead of him, only to see his Barça dream turn sour. There may not have been a clause in the loan deal to make the transfer permanent next summer but it’s hard to see a path back to the Nou Camp for Gomes given what he has been through there over the past couple of years. If he hits it off with the Blues in the way that he and Everton hope then there’s every chance that Brands can work his magic and secure the Portuguese on a long-term deal.

First things first, of course. Gomes has to remain fit and acclimatise to the English league and then demonstrate that he offers more guile going forward than either the still green Tom Davies or the combination of Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin have been able to provide.

However, coming at a time when James McCarthy is returning to fitness, Gomes will give Silva a valuable commodity — options. The belief and fervent hope is, however, that André Gomes will offer a good deal more than just that — he could be another game-changing addition to the Silva/Brands evolution at Everton.

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