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Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Angel Gomes

The Manchester United academy player reportedly is close to a deal with Chelsea. Who cares?

Manchester United v Manchester City - Carabao Cup: Semi Final Photo by Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images

I’m not sure what Angel Gomes thinks he’s entitled to, but his ridiculous contract dispute that’s lagged on this entire season looks like it’s finally coming to an end. Gomes has reportedly turned down a new contract with Manchester United and now looks likely to join Chelsea.

Gomes has some valid reasons (and some invalid ones too) to be upset with Manchester United, but this latest news — if true — tells us everything about him and why United shouldn’t lose any sleep over losing him.

I’m sorry, you want more first team football so you’re going to... Chelsea?

Chelsea, the team that famously doesn’t give opportunities to young players and instead ships them out on loan everywhere, is your path to more first-team football? Are you nuts?

Even if the coronavirus means Chelsea can’t be very active in the transfer market this summer, don’t you think that as soon as they can be they will?

Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been Chelsea’s “next great midfielder” for like five years now and he’s never started more than six games in a Premier League campaign. This is a team that spent £65 million on Christian Pulisic last summer and even he’s struggled to get a consistent look (with three and a half seasons of first team experience under his belt).

Along with Pulisic, Chelsea also possess the attacking talents of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount, Ross Barkley, and — starting next season — Hakim Ziyech. With all the uncertainty in the market I wouldn’t rule out them bringing back at least one of Pedro or Willian either.

Now we’re supposed to expect Frank Lampard to roll out the first-team red carpet for a 19-year-old who couldn’t beat out Jesse Lingard or Andreas Pereira?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been desperate to drop Lingard and Pereira this season. If Gomes had performed in the few chances that he got, or was out-performing those two in training, he would have been right in the team.

Marcus Rashford couldn’t even get a look in 2015/16. It was only after Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, and Will freaking Keane picked up injuries that Rashford was given a chance. Had Rashford gone out against Midtjylland and Arsenal and simply “played well and looked promising” he would have been dropped as soon as Rooney or Martial were ready to return. Instead he scored two goals in each game, ensuring himself a place in the team the following week. When it looked like that flash in the pan was over, he scored in the derby. He made himself undroppable, so much so that he forced Roy Hodgson to bring him to Euro 2016.

That’s how promising youngsters break through. You get a chance, and you grab it with both hands.

It’s not like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t think highly of Gomes. United took 21 outfield players on their preseason tour last summer. The formula was pretty straightforward: 11 players would play one half with the other 11 playing the other. When James Garner proved to be the exception — lucky to come on for only 10-15 minutes, if that —it was an early sign that he was probably still a year away. But Gomes was right in there with everyone else. In fact, Gomes was one of two players (Mason Greenwood being the other) to receive “upgraded” squad numbers heading into this season, a tell-tale sign that he was very much in Solskjaer’s plans.

Brandon Williams wasn’t on that tour. He got his chance to play a few minutes because Luke Shaw had picked up an injury. He impressed and got another chance. He impressed again. He impressed so much that he forced a selection dilemma at left-back and allowed Solskjaer to let Ashley Young leave the club.

You get a chance, and you grab it with both hands.

Gomes played well in the preseason. He showed flashes of his talent and potential but didn’t light the world on fire and certainly didn’t force himself into the team for the first few matches. But as soon as United played a non-league match, guess who was in the XI?

I thought Gomes was the best player on the pitch in United’s September match against Astana, but when he came off the score was still 0-0. For all his talent, how much was he affecting the game?

I’m not holding Gomes’ few cameos in the Premier League against him. Those are difficult situations to come into and he often wasn’t on the pitch long enough to make an impact. But he did play two other Europa League matches against AZ Alkmaar and Astana where He. Did. Nothing.

Okay, it’s only the Europa League, but that’s the point. If you’re not dominating the Europa League how can you say you deserve chances in the Premier League? Harry Kane had to score six goals in five Europa League matches before Mauricio Pochettino would give him a Premier League start.

Gomes also featured in two EFL Trophy matches for the U23s against Rotherham and Tranmere where he didn’t do much. Those are lower league sides are maybe not as good as the Premier League’s U23s skill-wise, but they’re men. The kind of big, physical men you’d have to play against in the Premier League.

That’s what this is all about. Size. It has nothing to do with Gomes’ skill. He has that in spades. Gomes is 5’3” and 115 pounds. That is TINY. He’s simply not ready to handle the physicality of the Premier League.

Jesse Lingard wrote in the Players Tribune about Sir Alex Ferguson telling him when he was 16 that he wasn’t going to be ready until he was 22 or 23. He was just too small.

“Oh, but what about Messi? People said he was too small and look at him.”

Two things to note here:

  1. Messi has four inches on Gomes.
  2. That’s Leo freaking Messi we’re talking about. The best player to ever play. The biggest outlier, the biggest exception among all the exceptions to the rule. And frankly, by the time Messi was 19, he had already played in a World Cup.

There is certainly a list of other great players who weren’t blessed with size but, in general, they’re the exception. You have to have so much more talent to overcompensate for a lack of size. There’s a much longer list of players who had the talent to play at the top level, but didn’t grow enough.

We’ve all seen what Gomes has done in the reserves, or in the England youth team, but none of that is a guarantee of success at the next level. The list of players who were shining stars at 19 and didn’t end up making it is also a long one.

Gomes did get a rough draw this year. He should have been sent out on loan, but the size of our squad didn’t allow that. There was hope that he would hit a growth spurt and thus be able to get more chances in the first team, but that hasn’t happened either. And yes, there were probably times where he was overlooked because of this contract dispute, but that’s on him too.

Gomes has by far outgrown the U23 Premier League 2 (second division) level, but that doesn’t make him ready for the Premier League. The jump from U23 to the Premier League is a substantial one. The Premier League isn’t necessarily the next level for a player in Gomes’ position, it’s merely the next available level. That’s the problem with English football — there’s nothing in between.

I understand Gomes wanting to play, but telling me you’re going to Chelsea for more first-team opportunities is pissing on my leg and telling me it’s raining.

Gomes is already at the club with the clearest pathway to the first-team in England. It’s a club that prides itself on promoting youth. It’s a club with the youngest squad in the league. It has two teenagers getting regular (earned) first team minutes.

Considering this contract dispute has gone on all season, I can’t help but think it’s about money. United gave him their standard contract that they’d give to academy players his age and he turned it down.

If that’s the case, then don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Bending to Gomes’ contract demands would go against the entire culture Solskjaer is trying to build. We’re not just handing out large wages to anyone anymore. They need to be earned.

Gomes may have great potential, but I won’t lose any sleep over him leaving. There are players who had even more potential that have through the Manchester United academy who haven’t worked out. How many players have we rued letting them leave our academy because they’ve gone on to be superstars?

Just one. And Angel Gomes is no Paul Pogba.