“People back in Uruguay say that I’m going to be Luis Suárez’s successor in the national team and I hope that will turn out to be the case.” Maxi Gómez certainly has high expectations of himself, but the 21-year-old Celta Vigo striker is proving in LaLiga that he is indeed capable of becoming Uruguay’s next superstar centre-forward.
With his brace against Espanyol last weekend, Gómez took his goalscoring tally for the 2017/18 LaLiga campaign to 13, a cheeks-puffingly impressive return for a player currently in the middle of his first ever season in Europe, having only just moved from Defensor Sporting for a mind-bogglingly low €4.3m last summer. The fact he is so young makes his record even more amazing. No other LaLiga player still in their twenties has as many goals as he does.
As for his 31-year-old idol Luis Suárez, the Barcelona man currently has 16 LaLiga goals to his name, but has logically had many more chances presented to him per match. Tellingly, Gómez is scoring with every 3.2 shots he takes this campaign, whereas Suárez has needed 3.9 shots for every net ripple. Gómez is currently 1.35 goals better off than his xG numbers, whereas the veteran is 1.13 worse off.
Like Suárez, Gómez is very skilled at protecting the ball, creating a no-go forcefield around him with the frantic waving of his arms. In fact, he is so good at shrugging off defenders that Gómez’s nickname back in Uruguay is Toro, meaning Bull.
Yet there aren’t too many more stylistic similarities between the Barcelona and Celta Vigo forwards. Besides both being strong, aggressive and determined, possessing that garra charrua Uruguayan fighting spirit, these two players actually play quite differently. Gómez certainly doesn’t run as much as Suárez does and is more static in attack, involving himself in the build-up play less frequently than the former Liverpool man. Yet Gómez is just as effective when the ball comes towards him and he is even better than Suárez in the air.
To be fair, Gómez is better than most at scoring headed goals. With seven of his headers finding the back of the net this season, there is no player in any of Europe’s top five leagues – LaLiga, the Premier League, Serie A, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 – with as many headed goals as the Uruguayan. At six foot one, it’s not as if he is especially tall, but he can jump like a flea and has neck muscles of steel, making him so dangerous for the opposition.
With the ball at his feet he is pretty deadly too and can use both his left foot and his right foot, even if he prefers the latter. All of his goals this season have come inside the area and it’s true that he isn’t as effective when outside of those white lines, but that aspect of his game is improving at free-flowing Celta Vigo, a team coached by former Barcelona assistant Juan Carlos Unzué.
Perhaps what’s most impressive about Gómez, though, and what most makes him an heir to Suárez and Edinson Cavani in Uruguay’s attack is his character. Having moved away from home when 15 years old in order to join Montevideo-based side Defensor Sporting, he doesn’t seem scared by any challenge. In fact, he could have pocketed some easy money in January when Chinese Super League side Beijing Gouan came calling, only to turn them down in order to continue trying to prove himself in LaLiga and trying to make Uruguay’s World Cup squad for this summer’s tournament. He is the kind of player who doesn’t mind shouldering responsibility and on his second ever appearance for Defensor Sporting he even took a spot kick in the penalty shootout of that Copa Sudamericana match. Just 21 minutes into his professional career, he was all in. And, of course, he scored it.
Maxi Gómez is still raw and there is plenty for him to improve on. Is he a complete forward right now? No. But is he already a natural goalscorer? Yes. Uruguay are lucky to have yet another supreme talent emerging from their conveyor belt of world-class strikers.