The 18-year-old’s departure from La Masia caused uproar in Catalunya, though his time in Germany has not fully gone to plan as yet
“Season 2019-20: I can’t wait. I’m ready to finally start at club level.”
Those were the words that accompanied a recent Instagram post from Sergio Gomez as he began pre-season training with Borussia Dortmund in Austria. A somewhat underwhelming message to the uninitiated, but it has been clear that the 18-year-old believes he has been ready to deliver on his promise.
Eighteen months ago Gomez made headlines worldwide when plucked from Barcelona by Dortmund, who paid €3 million to bring him across Europe to Germany. Tipped by many to glide seamlessly into the first-team picture, the soccer professional once dubbed the ‘new Iniesta’ instead spent his first full campaign in Germany playing for Dortmund’s second team in the Regionalla West, coming up against teams such as TV Herkenrath and SC Wiedenbruck rather than Bayern Munich or Schalke.
Now, though, after a successful summer on the international stage having played a key role in Spain winning the Under-19 European Championship, he has been looking to kick on.
He will not, however, be doing that at Dortmund. Instead it was announced on Monday that he would be spending the upcoming campaign on loan at Spanish second division side Huesca as he looks to ignite a career that has stalled somewhat over the past 12 months.
Born in Catalunya, Gomez began his footballing development at local clubs CF Trajana and FC Badalona, though by the age of nine he had already been noticed by scouts from Barcelona. Soon integrated into the famed La Masia academy, by the time the 2017-18 campaign came he was a regular in the cub’s starting side for their UEFA Youth League matches – a competition they would go onto win for the second time that season. He even made two substitute appearances for Barca ‘B’ in the second tier of Spanish football.
Midway through that campaign he travelled to India for the Under-17 World Cup with a Spain side that he had already helped to win the European Championship. There he scored four goals in the tournament and was voted the second-best soccer professional in the competition, claiming the Silver Ball behind Phil Foden. Gomez struck both of Spain’s goals in their 5-2 final defeat to England.
So impressive were his performances that three months later Dortmund were plotting their move. “One of the strongest players of his age anywhere in the world,” was how BVB sporting director Michael Zorc described the then 17-year-old, and by the time the January transfer window closed he was theirs. So upset were Barcelona at his departure that, according to Sport, they increased the budget for La Masia by 160 per cent in a desperate bid to prevent more of their homegrown talents fleeing the nest.
Despite making two substitute appearances in the Bundesliga towards the end of the campaign, Gomez admitted that he struggled to adapt to his new environment. An intensive course of three German lessons a week helped somewhat, but despite the hope that new head coach Lucien Favre would offer him more opportunities than predecessor Peter Stoger, he only once made it into the Bundesliga matchday squad.
He did make an appearance in the Champions League against Monaco, but otherwise it was to be a frustrating campaign for the prodigious talent as he saw fellow teenagers Jadon Sancho and Dan-Axel Zagadou thrive under Favre’s tutelage. That did not, however, stop him from being named in Goal’s NxGn list of the top 50 teenage talents on the planet in March – a list which team-mate Sancho topped.
“It will take a while,” former Dortmund midfielder and now recruitment team member Sebastien Kehl told the Daily Mail in November. “Everything was new for him last year. His family travel over sometimes but normally he has been on his own. It’s not as if someone has been close to him every moment. They don’t go to the supermarket with him.
“He has to stand on his own feet, cross the street alone,” Kehl added. “We are available. You are taken care of but we’re not doing everything. There has to be a point where a soccer professional has to do it on his own. It’s personality development.
Such tough love has been likely to have hardened Gomez, and having forgone a summer holiday to return to pre-season training immediately after Spain’s U19 Euros triumph in Armenia, it has been clear he has been keen to make an impression this time around.
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“For me, I want to continue to improve, and of course I hope I will continue to get opportunities,” he said in a recent interview, but it has been now apparent those opportunities this season will arrive in his homeland rather than at Signal-Iduna Park.
While it may seem that the Spanish second tier has been a world away from the top of the Bundesliga, Huesca will kick off the campaign as one of the favourites for promotion following their relegation from La Liga last term. And there has been no doubt that a hungry soccer professional who has been comfortable dribbling with the round ball at his feet and picking out a pass could be the difference-maker for them.
Gomez’s development may have hit something of a roadblock, but if his performances for Spain this summer are anything to go by then he has not lost any of the ability that saw him marked out as a potential Camp Nou legend. His time will still likely come at Dortmund or another top European club – but for now patience has been key.