25. Maxi Gómez
We live in a time where the scouting of players is more complicated than ever. A player should possess countless of qualities to even be considered by clubs. However, when searching for a center forward, this over-complication should be put aside. Of course, you want your striker to have good movement and the ability to link up well his teammates, but the one thing you should always look for in a #9 is whether he has the goal at the forefront of his mind – entre ceja y ceja. He has to live for the goals and have that one quality that you can’t teach – striker’s instinct.
It’s these abilities that have made Maxi Gómez one of the best youngsters Uruguay has seen over the past decade. The 21-year-old Uruguayan, born in Paysandú, has been a revelation ever since emerging on the scene for Defensor Sporting in 2015. Back then, Gómez immediately showed his personality when Defensor faced Lanús in the Copa Sudamericana round of 16. After more than 200 minutes without a single goal, the game had to be decided through penalties. Despite having made his debut only two weeks ago, Gómez showcased courage like only Uruguay’s famous ‘El Loco’ Abreu could by stepping up for the decisive fifth spot kick. He scored and introduced himself as the fearless player Uruguay now know him as.
Since that moment, Gómez has developed into one of the best players in Uruguay, and after scoring 12 goals in 13 games in Defensor’s (2017) Apertura-winning campaign, the youngster earned his move to Europe this summer. La Liga side Celta de Vigo secured Gómez’ services for a reported fee of €4 million, landing a star for peanuts in today’s market.
At Celta, Gómez has started his career in Europe with former Barcelona assistant manager Juan Carlos Unzué as his manager. Unzué will be familiar coaching an Uruguayan striker, having worked with Luis Suárez at Barcelona for the past three seasons. And although it might sound like a lazy juxtaposition, when the Spaniard compares the two Uruguayan frontmen, Unzué will find a lot of similarities apart from their nationality.
The first characteristic that catches the eye when watching Gómez is his size. He has a strong physique and sometimes even looks a pound or two too heavy. It led to his friends calling him Gucci, in reference to weighty Uruguayan singer Gustavo ‘El Gucci’ Serafini. The comparison with Suárez starts right there, because when he arrived in Europe to play for Dutch side FC Groningen, El Pistolero was a kilo or five too heavy. However, the Barcelona player overcame his early career struggles, becoming one of the best center forwards in world football.
There’s still a long way to go for Gómez to emulate the heights of his compatriot but when analyzing his game, there are many indications of a world-class striker in the making. Firstly, Gómez knows how to shield the ball, using his robustly-built body to his advantage. On top of that, Gómez possesses a great deal of pace, so he can also be relied upon when his team is on the break. Add to that Gómez’s ability to link up with his teammates and his dribbling skills, which allows him to create chances for himself, and you have the most complete striker originating from Uruguay since, you guessed it, Luis Suárez.
Another characteristic that he shares with Suárez is Gómez’s unbelievable passion for the game and his determination to win, whatever it takes. He gives everything on the pitch; he doesn’t just rely on his attacking potency, but also his relentless defensive work.
However, Gómez’ most impressive quality has not been mentioned yet. It’s a quality that separates a good striker from an exceptional one, and there areb’t many around who have mastered it at such young age like Gómez has. It’s his intelligent movement in the box, which makes him impossible to defend at times. For example, at corner kicks, Gómez often opts to position himself cleverly and try to anticipate how the play unfolds, instead of attacking the ball. The proof is in the dulce de leche, as he was left unmarked on several occasions this season, and his opponents paid for it dearly. In his four matches in Europe, Gómez has scored four goals. The man on the street will point to a defender for not picking him up, but these subtle and incisive movements are so hard to track.
Those smart movements make the difference between a 15-goal-a-season striker and a 25-goal-a-season striker. For instance, Suárez scored a record-equalling 31 Premier League goals for Liverpool in the 2013/14 season, including some spectacular goals like a 45-yard half-volley against Norwich City. While these golazos get you off your seat, it’s really the intelligent movement for the other goals that has separated Suárez from a whole lot of sensational strikers who have graced the Premier League. A golazo wins retweets and applause, but a Golden Boot wins trophies and million dollar salaries.
Maxi Gómez, like Suárez, is capable of the extraordinary, but is also intelligent enough to grab some of the less eye-catching, yet equally important goals, and therefore he could become Uruguay’s next great forward. Because with Suárez and Cavani both in their thirties and Forlán long past his peak years, there is a void to be filled. The likes of Abel Hernández, Diego Rolán and Cristhian Stuani have tried and, thus far, failed to fill that void, so it’s now up to Uruguay’s next generation of strikers, consisting of Joaquín Ardaiz, Nicolás Schiappacasse and Maxi Gómez, to succeed their illustrious predecessors.
And while, unlike Gómez, Ardaiz and Schiappacasse have already represented Uruguay’s U20 team, the Celta striker is my pick to be Uruguay’s first choice center forward in five years’ time. With his complete profile and his never-say-die mentality,Maxi Gómez is a special talent who will spearhead Los Charrúas’ next generation.
By: David Kraakman/@Davidmonaco10