Barcelona need to trim their squad. Although they famously lost Neymar last summer, those in the Camp Nou boardroom struggled to offload fringe players like Thomas Vermaelen and Arda Turan, so one of their main tasks this January is to move some players on.
One of those players could be André Gomes, the 24-year-old Portuguese midfielder who Barcelona also reportedly tried to move on towards the end of the most recent transfer window, even after rejecting an offer of €35m at the beginning of June – a U-turn which summed up the club’s disorderly summer. While the player remained in Catalonia on deadline day, there has since been fresh speculation in Spain that he’ll be let go in January, with the Premier League the most likely landing spot. But would he suit English football?
Well, Gomes certainly has the frame for it. The idea that a player must be built like Vinnie Jones to survive in the Premier League may be exaggerated and outdated, but it is true that many imports from the Iberian Peninsula do struggle to adapt to its physicality. Gomes, though, should be able to hold his own, at 6ft 2in and 84kg.
The fitness to be a Premier League-esque box-to-box midfielder is also there, with Gomes averaging 11.9km per 90 minutes for Barcelona in LaLiga and Champions League matches last season, making him the hardest worker in the whole of Luis Enrique’s team.
Gomes clearly has all of the athletic tools to be a good player and he has many technical ones too. So far this season, for example, he’s completed 91% of his passes, the fourth-highest percentage of any Barcelona player. He’s also made 4.39 successful tackles per 90 minutes, the most of any player in the squad. He can win the ball in the air too, having won all his aerial duels so far this year, while also winning more per 90 minutes than any non-defender in the Barcelona team last LaLiga season.
The problem with Gomes is not that he’s a bad footballer. The problem is that he’s not really a Barcelona type of footballer, and definitely not a Barcelona type of midfielder, which is one reason why he was subjected to whistles and boos at various points last season. “Playing at Barcelona is not for everyone,” he himself has said in an interview with A Bola.
Some have suggested that the Catalan club only signed him in the first place because he was on the verge of joining Real Madrid and, while that may not be wholly accurate, it was telling when technical secretary Robert Fernández said the signing came about because of “an opportunity that came up in the market”. Barcelona hadn’t really longed for Gomes, he seemed to be saying, but they’d suddenly spotted him like you would a chocolate bar in the shelf next to the supermarket queues.
The way Gomes plays is not the Barcelona way, that of quick passing and smart movement. While he has, as mentioned above, complete 91% of his passes this season, how many of them are useful passes? So often when the ball is played to Gomes he holds on to it for a couple of seconds too long, before rolling it on to the nearby Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets or Lionel Messi, instead of taking the initiative and trying to pick the lock himself. While Barcelona are a more patient team than most, the fact that 46% of Gomes’ passes go backwards can be stifling. At times it might be more effective for Barcelona’s tiki-taka football to bypass Gomes, as the brakes are often put on when he’s in possession.
Of course, with time Gomes might be able to become a Barcelona-type player. Few imports pick it up immediately, with Javier Mascherano once saying that he’d had to re-learn football when he joined the Blaugrana. Yet the best thing for Gomes in the short-term might be a move to the Premier League. With more emphasis on running with the ball and on passing into space, rather than playing a precise putt along the green into a teammate’s feet, the former Valencia player might enjoy more success.
Gary Neville, who coached him briefly at the Mestalla, has compared him to Frank Lampard and he certainly does have that box-to-box mentality. He is the kind of player with too much energy and not enough vision for Barcelona’s chess-match football, but with sufficient drive to function in the right Premier League team, i.e. not a Manchester City or an Arsenal. We’ll have to wait until January to find out if he will be coming to the British Isles, but it should be exciting if he does indeed arrive.