Pescara, Italy, 21st September 2022. Angel Gomes of England during the International Friendly match at Stadio Adriatico, Pescara.

Angel Gomes is England’s U21 Euro baller & what could’ve been for Man Utd

Angel Gomes was meant to be the heir to the throne at Manchester United after becoming the club’s youngest debutant in 2017, but now finds himself climbing the ladder once again in Ligue 1 with Lille.

It was a sudden and somewhat painful pill for United fans to swallow when the midfielder left the club for nothing in 2020, having been at the club since the age of six and positioned to be the next big star.

For how romantic the story sounded, though, the relationship was always doomed for a sour end. Gomes was a very small and slight midfield profile, not bound by a specific position or role, thanks to his superior IQ and astounding technical ability from such a young age.

But he was coming through at United in an era where their youth system rewarded physical beasts; pace and power prevailed with coaching staff unsure on how to properly integrate and develop their technical gems.

That difficulty in dealing with technical players has hurt United. The Red Devils have long been a club without identity or direction, and only now is Erik ten Hag trying to correct that by establishing a technical baseline once again. Gomes, now 22 and blossoming for club and country, could’ve been central to that reset.

Lee Carsley’s Young Lions have made a strong start to their Euro 2023 campaign, with two wins from their first two group stage fixtures ensuring passage into the knockout stages as quickly as possible.

Gomes has proven key to that thus far. Off the back of a breakout season with Lille, playing 39 times in all competitions and occupying a rather consistent central role as a number eight, the 22-year-old has started both of England’s two games thus far, and absolutely locked down the midfield on each occasion, dictating play like a veteran at the base of it.

It’s a role people would perhaps be shocked to see Gomes operate in, given the fact he broke through as an attacking midfielder at United and because of his size. But when you can ping a ball like he can, or shimmy past a man and receive it in such tight spaces like he does, truthfully you can play wherever you like.

A player of the match performance against Israel on matchday two was the proof in the pudding. Gomes was unplayable in England’s midfield, popping up like a mole out of the ground, with the opposition frantically chasing their own shadows trying to mark him out of the game, but to no avail.

England took a 1-0 lead into the break, Everton’s Anthony Gordon the scorer. But Israel kept knocking, and it was only due to the fleeting wizardry of the 2016-17 Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year that England were able to break through and eventually find the all-important second goal.

Exceptional vision, brave positioning and an unrelenting creativity which allowed him to push his side forwards, it’s the kind of midfield performance Gomes has become known for in France this season.

Understated, but with class spilling out from the sides. The guy’s just got it. Not the build, or even the arrogance. Just pure technical ability. And that’s a dying breed.

Forget stats for a moment – his highlights are testament to that. Eye test needed.

We can gloss up Gomes’ influence on England’s under-21 over the past two games and for Lille over the course of the 2022-23 season with all this fancy football jargon.

Half turns this, vertical passes that, phases here and there. And while it’s true, it doesn’t get to what makes him so good. What makes him so good is how f*cking annoying he looks to play against.

Seriously. Give him that ball anywhere on the field, force him into the tightest space possible, and the bastard will find a way out. Recycles the ball like a binman possessed, with the promise of an early dart on a sunny day. For club and for country, it’s astounding to watch. Painful, if you’re a United fan.

One can only aimlessly wonder ‘what if?’ Regarding Gomes and his romantic come-up at Old Trafford. If there was ever a man to complete the story with him, it feels like it was Ten Hag, switching him into the pivot for Christian Eriksen in a changing of the guard moment.

Football isn’t that simple, though, and Gomes has proven himself to not need the romance of fulfilling his destiny at United to succeed; he’s thriving without them.

By Mitchell Wilks

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