Joe Gomez's rise underlines importance of Liverpool's bargain shopping
Much praise has been heaped upon Liverpool defender Joe Gomez this past week. Ex-Arsenal and England defender Martin Keown claimed the 21-year-old "has everything in his game," while former Chelsea and Ireland striker Tony Cascarino suggested the Liverpool youngster should be given Kyle Walker's England spot.
Garth Crooks went a step further, hailing him as "the nearest thing I've seen to Bobby Moore in years". The former Tottenham man is often prone to hyperbole, but that was silly even for him. Gomez is a young lad with a big future, but comparisons with a World Cup-winning captain and the best defender England has ever produced aren't particularly helpful.
Still, Gomez deserves every accolade that comes his way because even at such a young age he's been through a lot. Since joining Liverpool from Charlton Athletic as a raw 18-year-old, it has been a series of ups and downs for the Londoner.
Injuries can play such a defining role in the outcome of a footballer's career, and Gomez has experienced both sides of it. He has suffered himself due to long-term injuries, but he has also benefitted from the misfortune of others.
Unlike most kids who join big clubs from the lower leagues, Gomez did not have to wait for his chance. He went straight into Liverpool's starting lineup and featured regularly in his first few months at the club until sustaining an ACL injury while on international duty.
It could not have come at a worse time. Jurgen Klopp had just arrived and Gomez missed out on the chance to impress his new boss. That injury effectively cost him almost two years of his career, as by the time he eventually returned, he was way down the pecking order and couldn't get a game.
Things can change so quickly in football, though. Little more than a year ago, Gomez was on the brink of having to go out on loan to secure regular football. Nathaniel Clyne then picked up a serious injury that would rule him out for seven months, and Gomez was left as the main beneficiary.
Instead of joining a Championship club on loan, Gomez was sharing time at right-back with Trent Alexander-Arnold until the injury curse struck again. Gomez not only missed Liverpool's run to the Champions League final, he was also robbed of a place in England's World Cup squad.
It was a cruel blow, and with Clyne fully fit again, Gomez looked to be back to square one again this summer. Going into preseason, he had two players ahead of him for the right-back spot and he was fourth in line for a place in the centre of defence. Injury looked to have taken away his opportunity, yet once again injury would give it back to him.
Had either Joel Matip or Dejan Lovren been fit to start the season, then Gomez would have been vying with Clyne and Alberto Moreno for a place on the substitutes' bench at best. They weren't fit though, and that opened the door for Gomez to start the season alongside Virgil van Dijk in the middle. So far, he's been a revelation, and he may now be first choice for both club and country.
The success of players like Gomez is vital for Liverpool if they are to challenge for major honours. Much has been made of how much the Reds paid for Van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson, but the reason they were able to do that is because of shrewd investment elsewhere. Van Dijk may be the world's most expensive defender, but the rest of Liverpool's current back four cost a relative pittance.
Alexander-Arnold came through the academy, Gomez was plucked from League One for £3.5 million and left-back Andrew Robertson cost £10m from Championship side Hull City.
Manchester City might not have anyone quite as expensive as Van Dijk, but don't let that fool you into thinking Liverpool are spending on the same level as the Champions. City's defenders have cost a fortune: John Stones (£50m), Danilo (£26.5m), Benjamin Mendy (£52m), Kyle Walker (£50m), Nicolas Otamendi (£32m) and Aymeric Laporte (£57m). That's upwards of £260m before you even think about the rest of the team.
Liverpool have one big-money defender. They do not have the financial muscle to be splashing out mega bucks on every signing they make, yet they are now in a position where they can break world records when a player Klopp really wants is available. Put simply, if Klopp had spent close to £130m on three full-backs a year ago, as Pep Guardiola did, he would not have been able to move for Van Dijk.
Liverpool are not short of cash by any means, but they aren't in the same financial bracket as the two Manchester clubs or Paris Saint-Germain. In order to compete with those clubs for the top players, Liverpool must be clever in building other areas of their squad.
Gomez and Robertson are proof that there are hidden gems out there, while Alexander-Arnold's meteoric rise shows what can happen when you put faith in homegrown talent.
With respect to those lads though, these are not once-in-a-generation players. There will certainly be others like Gomez and Robertson plying their trade outside of the Premier League, just waiting for a top club to take a chance on them. Equally, you can be sure there are a number of kids just like Alexander-Arnold in academies up and down the country just waiting for their manager to give them an opportunity.
A club like Liverpool should always be in the market for the very best talent when it's available, but that can only happen if they continue to display an eye for a bargain.
Some of the greatest players in Liverpool's history came from smaller clubs for modest fees. It's much more difficult to do that in the modern era, but the success of Gomez shows that it can be done.