Joe Gomez will never forget his first meeting with Jurgen Klopp. It involved crutches, heartbreak and Liverpool’s new manager making a revelation that, until now, was unknown in this country.
Five days after Liverpool appointed Klopp in October 2015, Gomez ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee during an England Under 21 game against Kazakhstan in Coventry.
When Gomez returned to Melwood, Klopp found words that immediately provided some relief.
‘He comforted me,’ said Gomez, before revealing a little-known fact about his manager’s past. ‘Jurgen did his ACL previously in Germany. So he spoke to me about it. I was emotional and disappointed but he was just positive. He’d been through the same thing and knew what was ahead. He gave me nice words that gave me the push to get back.’
The road back, however, was longer than Gomez had envisaged. After the knee problem came a serious achilles issue and he worked so hard in his rehabilitation that he put too much muscle on. It led to the defender having almost two years shaved off a career that promises much.
But a new season has brought new opportunity and he has made three appearances for Liverpool this term, including a man-of-the-match performance in the 4-0 defeat of Arsenal eight days ago.
His upward curve has continued with Aidy Boothroyd making him captain of the Under 21s, who take on Latvia on Tuesday in a Euro 2019 qualifier in Bournemouth.
It is a measure of the regard in which Gomez is held that Boothroyd had nobody else in mind for the role and it is significant given what happened earlier this summer ahead of the last tournament.
Gomez took the decision, after consulting Klopp and Boothroyd, to make himself unavailable for Euro 2017, as the defender didn’t believe he was in the right physical condition to make a proper contribution in Poland.
Some international managers would have held such a decision against an individual, but there was never any doubt Gomez would return for England and his strong performance in the 1-1 with Holland on Friday showed his commitment.
‘This is a massive platform,’ said Gomez. ‘Playing here can open so many windows. But at the same time, if you are not playing for your club you won’t get picked. It was about balance. It was a decision I had to make for the sake of being there at pre-season on the first day and trying to prove a point.
‘I saw it was best to be ready for Liverpool first day and to be ready to go straight in. You have to appreciate every time you are picked for England and it is an honour to be captain.
‘Things can get taken away from you in a flash, like it was with that challenge against Kazakhstan.’
Tuesday will be another high when he leads England out against Latvia before he returns to Liverpool, who have Manchester City as their next opponents.
‘The manager has brought a lot of light and belief to the city,’ said Gomez. ‘The desire, the work rate, the style and the counter pressing that he wants us to do.
‘Now we have had a season to bed down and it is all in place to perform and get results. Hopefully he can lead us to where we want to be.’