It may only be early days in the La Liga season but Celta Vigo’s signing of Maxi Gomez is already looking like one of the best bits of summer business. The powerful 21-year-old Uruguayan striker moved to the Galician outfit from Defensor Sporting for a mere €4.3mil and has taken the league by storm, scoring five goals in seven games and earning a debut national team call-up.
Hailing from Paysandu, a city situated on the eastern banks of the Rio Uruguay, just a stone’s throw from neighbouring Argentina, Gomez began his career at local youth side CA Litoral. In 2013, he moved to Montevideo and joined the youth ranks of Defensor Sporting, winning the national U17 league with them the same year. The following year he won Apertura and Clausura titles with the U19s as they romped to the 2014 national championship for their age category.
Defensor Sporting have an excellent record at producing young players, with the likes of Sebastian Abreu, Nicolas Olivera, Diego Perez and Martin Caceres all beginning their career with La Viola. More recently academy products Diego Rolan, Gaston Silva, Giorgian de Arrascaeta and Diego Laxalt have all gone on to win national team caps and Gomez was next in line to follow in their footsteps.
Gomez’s senior debut for Defensor came in 2015 and he made the step up with ease, scoring 14 goals in 25 appearances in his first season. His form dropped off a bit in the second half of 2016 but he rediscovered his shooting boots for the 2017 Apertura, firing Defensor to an unexpected title win with 11 goals and 3 assists in 12 games.
This summer Celta Vigo took a punt on the relatively unknown Gomez and it has proven to be a masterstroke. La Celeste have been crying out for someone to lessen the goal-scoring burden on Iago Aspas and, with the pace and creativity they have in wide areas from Pione Sisto, Emre Mor and the overlapping Hugo Mallo, they have a system perfectly suited for Gomez’s style of centre-forward play.
A brace on his league debut against Real Sociedad has been followed with important goals against Alaves, Getafe and Girona to take his tally to five goals in seven games.
After such a sensational start to life in Spain, we analyse what makes him such a potent force in front of goal and whether his tag of Luis Suarez’s heir is warranted.
Gomez is a classic number nine and his record at Defensor – 30 strikes in 52 appearances – underlines his ruthlessness in front of goal. An instinctive finisher who comes to life in the penalty box, Gomez possesses deft movement off the ball, great anticipation and spatial awareness which helps make that all-important half a yard of space. Once he has created room for himself, he rarely needs more than a couple of touches to get his shot away and the result is often devastating.
Gomez also has great technique which means he is able to finish all kinds of chances, as displayed by his opening goal on his debut against Real Sociedad. The ball goes over his head but is kept in play and Gomez, with his back to goal and at an acute angle, is able to opportunistically flick the outside of his boot to divert the ball back into the goal.
Despite primarily being a penalty-box predator, Gomez has the pace and power to get in behind defences, allied with the ice cold composure in one-on-one situations. He’s even shown that he is a threat from range, as the magnificent free kick against Danubio at the end of the video above displays, which is further testament to the varied threat he offers.
Standing roughly 1.86m tall, Gomez’s aerial prowess is an evident feature of his game. His aforementioned penalty box movement and strength to hold off opponents makes him an ideal focal point of the attack and an obvious target for whipped balls into the box.
As we’ve come to expect from South American forwards that have thrived in Europe, Gomez also possesses a relentless hunger and determination which will see him throw his head at any ball. On occasion this has even been to his detriment, a prime example being the injury-time winner against Danubio that left him unconscious.
As well as using his heading to put the finishing touch on the move, this aerial ability is also effective when bringing others into play and Gomez excels at winning flick-ons for his teammates, as demonstrated by the final clips of the video above.
LINK UP PLAY
Nicknamed el Toro, Gomez’s bull-like strength means he is able to hold the ball up well to get his team up the pitch. He’s also comfortable dropping deep to receive the ball with his back to goal and shielding the ball before laying it off to a teammate to retain possession.
This link-up play is an important part to his game and he is happy putting in a shift for the team and running the channels when necessary. His pace and dribbling means he is happy to drifting wide and dragging out defenders out of position for others to exploit the space.
Far from just a pure finisher, Gomez can combine with teammates playing off his shoulder and on occasion can turn creator and put through a decent through ball or cross. While his stats in Uruguay stand out for the number of goals, he also managed 11 assists in 52 games; a pretty decent return for a centre-forward.
Muscular, uncompromising and highly competitive, Maxi Gomez is the living breathing spirit of Garrua Charrua, Uruguayan’s trademark blend of ferocity and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. This has allowed the nation to level the playing fields against those sides with far greater resources and has come to epitomise their never-say-die attitude on the football field.
Gomez is a big unit and is happy to mix it with the best of them in order to gain any advantage, whether that be leaving one on his marker or provoking an opponent into getting a booking. It is this gamesmanship which has added weight – no pun intended – to the comparisons with a young Luis Suarez.
Inevitably Gomez’s determination and physicality can spill over into downright shithousery and he has already picked up five yellow cards from his short time in Spain. This is a clear area that needs some work if he is to channel that aggression into something useful. To completely remove it from his game would be counter-productive as he would lose his fiery edge but, as we saw from Diego Costa at Chelsea under Antonio Conte, it can be honed into a game-changing weapon, if used appropriately.
Gomez has had a brilliant 2017 so far and his main aim will be to keep that going for the rest of the season. At Celta Vigo he’s at a brilliant place to develop in a top league, with a squad suited to making the most of his talents. The 2016 Europa League semi-finalists will be hopeful of getting into Europe next year and Gomez could be the final piece in the jigsaw for the exciting Galicians.
Even though he didn’t feature against Venezuela or Bolivia, Gomez’s call-up to the national team hints at some forward planning from Oscar Tabarez as he looks to rejuvenate the squad. The idea might be to ease him in as a long-term successor to Suarez or Cavani but if he continues his sensational form then it wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the World Cup shortlist.
The fact he didn’t contribute to their qualification might go against him but he has jumped ahead of U20 prospects Nicolas Schiappacasse and Joaquin Ardaiz and can now seriously challenge mainstays such as Diego Rolan and Abel Hernandez for a place in Russia.
Looking further forward, bigger clubs around Europe will have no doubt taken note and it would be no surprise to see a Champions League club try and lure him next summer. His physical style would certainly suit the Premier League, while his old-fashioned centre-forward play would no doubt go down well in Italy too.
He may not be as talented as Suarez yet but Gomez looks to have a bright future ahead of him, even if he does ruffle a few feathers along the way.