How Angel Gomes is Embracing His New Environment at Lille

Manchester United have long been synonymous with nurturing underage talent to great success. But, in recent times, there has been a seismic shift in their approach. United have shown many fledgling stars the exit door rather than holding onto precocious talents on the fringes of the first-team squad and honing their skills with patience.  


Isak Hansen-Aarøen, Anthony Elanga, Tim Fosu-Mensah, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, James Wilson, and Angel Gomes, who could be future stars, have all left. Many of the deals include the insertion of buy-back and sell-on clauses. It is the domino effect of modern football and Financial Fair Play concerns.


Nowadays youth development often takes a backseat at mega-clubs. The academy is quickly turning into a source of income rather than a wholesome football institution. United are not alone. This ethos is now adopted by many of European Football’s elite sides. The ripple effect, though, is not all bad.



Superclubs can no longer hoard exciting talents and starve them of first-team football at crucial junctures in their development. Instead, they become gettable targets for many clubs around the game. In the case of Angel Gomes, French club Lille under the guidance of talent spotter Luis Campos took full advantage of this new football landscape.


In August 2020, Lille pounced on the 19-year-old whose contract had expired. Gomes’s career at Old Trafford which began at the tender age of six was over. Gomes made his United first-team debut in May 2017 under Jose Mourinho. He came on as a substitute for Wayne Rooney, who was playing his last game for the Red Devils. Gomes, 16 years and 263 days old, became the youngest player for the club since Duncan Edwards in 1953.


The player described Marcus Rashford as a “big brother.” They shared digs during their time at the United academy. It always seemed he would be part of the United story. The attacking midfielder was also an instrumental part of England’s underage teams. He won the 2017 World Cup with England U17s, captaining his country to victory. Despite his pedigree and the fact, he was a local boy from Salford, United and Gomes parted ways.


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There is no single answer. He wasn’t pushed. A contract was on the table. The then-United manager, Ole Gunner Solskjaer, was regularly quizzed by baying journalists about Gomes. The contract negotiations rambled on. Gomes made just six appearances for United in the 2019-2020 season.


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When he signed for Lille, he was immediately loaned to Portuguese outfit Boavista. Vasco Seabra was his coach. Stylistically, Portuguese football suited Gomes down to the ground. Despite being just 5ft 6in (168cm) tall, it was a perfect fit for him. Gomes could have been forgotten about as he left his home and ventured into the unknown. He might have joined a long list of former United wonderkids who became journeymen. Federico Macheda is one example.


Instead of wilting, the youngster began to thrive and caught the eye at Boavista. It is hard to ignore a breathtaking goal from near the halfway line.



During the 2020/2021 campaign, Gomes played in 29 games, totalling 2585 minutes. He scored six goals and made five assists for Boavista. For one so young and adjusting to a new league his pass accuracy (79.3%) jumped off the page of his underlying numbers. Gomes gained a lot of first-team experience in a league known for producing top talent. He was well-prepared for the summer of 2021.


Portuguese Connection


His loan move to Portugal is not his only connection with the country. His godfather is former Portugal and Manchester United star Nani. The former winger is a close family friend. Angel’s father Gil represented the Mediterranean country at an underage level. His family relocated there from Angola. In 1991, he won the U20 World Cup with Portugal. He played alongside household names like Figo, Paulo Sousa, and Fernando Couto.


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The underage victory was the pinnacle of Gil’s football career in many ways. He struggled to establish himself in the Primeira Liga. After stints in France and in England’s lower divisions, he retired. Luckily for the Three Lions. Angel was born during his father’s time in England. Last summer, he continued to follow his father’s footsteps. The prodigy won more international honours when England were crowned U21 European champions. They won thanks to a memorable 1-0 victory over Spain in the final.


Gomes starred in a Number 6 role during the tournament. He acted as a skillful guardian angel in front of the back four. Many onlookers originally questioned England U21 boss Lee Carsley’s wisdom. He selected diminutive Gomes in a more defensive role. But such doubters must not have seen Gomes with Lille in Ligue 1.


The Lille Adventure


The youngster’s appeal has increased since he started making waves in French football. This is because of his natural ability to play in a variety of positions. The versatile Gomes has been deployed on the left and right wing, as a ten, and regularly as an eight in a double pivot. Lille often use this formation.


In the 2021/22 season, Gomes finally got his chance at Lille. With quick feet and an array of passing, he established himself as a mainstay in Paulo Fonseca’s team. By some twist of faith, Gomes’s new manager at Lille is also Portuguese. In most quarters, Fonseca is best known for his time at Shakhtar Donetsk.


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In Ukraine, he masterminded three consecutive league titles between 2016 and 2019. In 2017, his team even defeated Manchester City in the Champions League. After two differing years with Roma in Serie A, Fonseca took the reins at Lille in 2022 after the club had shocked Ligue 1 by winning the league under Christophe Galtier.


Lille were naturally the subject of transfer vultures. Their league-winning squad was dismantled. Stars like Sven Botman, Renato Sanches, and Amadou Onana all departed. Despite the flux, Fonseca guided the club to an admirable fifth-place finish. This rid the Stade Pierre-Mauroy of the league-winning hangover.


Gomes has been an integral part of this Lille rebirth. At times they tease you with the possibilities of what they could be. But they can also be their own worst enemy, with moments of wastefulness. Fonseca’s work at Lille will not glide under the radar for much longer. He plays a 4-2-3-1 formation and uses possession-heavy tactics with a high line.


In this new-look Lille outfit, other young talents surround Gomes. The team is pushing for Europe. When Gomes, Jonathan David, and Edon Zhegovra hit their collective groove, they are hard to resist. At times, the football is scintillating, technical, and adventurous.



Away from home, Lille have been long regarded in many ways as a soft touch but their travel sickness is abating. In Ligue 1 this season, Gomes has delivered five assists. His passing accuracy has also improved, reaching 91%. His versatility allows him to play in various midfield positions. He is a unique player who at times conjures memories of the great Andrés Iniesta.


Gomes Heatmap Ligue 1 2023/24


Gomes has the skill and balance to weave magic no matter how deep his position is. Fleet of foot and now endowed with a unique football education, he is a prospect that will one day achieve his original dream of playing in the Premier League. Ligue 1 is a better place when Lille are nearing their swashbuckling best. The senior England international team may benefit from the experience Gomes has gained in Europe sooner rather than later. 


By: Liam Scahill / @LiamScahill

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / ANP – Getty Images