Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Joe Gomez: A Dracula Neutralizer

Imagine each of Liverpool's early away fixtures this season as a dracula – lowercase d intended. A dracula, after all, is much more terrifying than just Dracula, because capital-D Dracula indicates there is just one Dracula, but "a dracula" is just one of multiple draculas out there looking to get you. If there's only one Dracula, well, where is it? "Oh, he's over on this other continent, not by you." OK then. If there's just one Dracula, then it's easy to just not go by him. Stay over on this other continent, not by Dracula.

But when confronted by "a dracula" – in Stoke, north London or wherever – one has multiple problems. First off, there's a dracula to deal with, and it wants to kill you. But more importantly, even if this "a dracula" can be defeated – or at least neutralized until one escapes to the airport – it's now known that other draculas are out there, on the hunt, ready to drain life from the body every couple of weekends. And sometimes on Thursday, for the purposes of this discussion. 

So a dracula-filled away lineup for Liverpool, which started on-Trent two weeks ago and will culminate with meeting Raheem "Nosferatu" Sterling on Nov. 21, meant a confrontation Monday with Arsenal. Since the date was set, this fixture harbored doom and gloom and possibly an extensive loss of blood. But this was all before child savior Joe Gomez revealed himself to the Liverpool-loving faithful.

To be clear, check with the much smarter, more organized and thoughtful oh you beauty (@natefc) for a detailed breakdown of just how Joe Gomez stared down the vampiric Alexis Sanchez and stood firm against the Transylvania-inducing Mesut Özil. But know now the hero Liverpool fans need when the undead armies helmed by Jose Mourinho, Tony Pulis and Tim Sherwood come for the vibrant red blood of Liverpool's young, relentless players (and James Milner), is the hero no fan expected until, like, a couple weeks ago. The man that stands between life and death is 18-year-old Joe "Event Horizon" Gomez.

Bournemouth last week was one thing. And the frisky and pre-Shaqiri Stoke of Mark Hughes in the season opener was a test that made young Joe creak and teeter at times, too. But Alexis Sanchez, shining star of the South American champions, is the Level 17 Boss compared to the Super Mario Bros. 3 ghost foot soldiers on display at the Britannia. And Monday night, the virtuoso Sanchez took aim at Joe Gomez. Joe snuffed some moves, counterpunched others and generally made the best of it he could without conceding a goal-making move – in his third top-flight game. At age 18.

Look, it's natural to feel that pull toward posting in the Guardian's comments section that Joe Gomez is destined to be the 21st century Phil Neal, only at left back and even better at penalties. Don't let me stop you from getting carried away with the fun. Again, this is not the home of step-by-step analysis of tactical performances. Hell, I was able to keep only one eye on the match for much of the proceedings Monday, but only one eye was needed to see Joe Gomez launch past pleasant surprise and continue flying with angels up and beyond giddy-inducing fresh face. By Friday, the whole of Liverpool fandom will be at the "How could you miss his testimonial?!" stage with Joe Gomez.

Matching an undead champion like Alexis Sanchez, even once, would burnish any youngster's legend. But Alexis, for all his might, is just a dracula. Memphis is also a dracula. Willian and Pedro are other draculas, along with the lesser-known Vardy and Kouyaté varieties. And three months off in the distance, even though he's a left-sided player now, Joe Gomez might face a dracula just as young and vital as he is.

Still, it's fun to think about what a Vampire Dream Warrior could do. There will be time later to recall that Bram Stoker got all this going on May 26, 1897, shortly after Aston Villa completed the double, and the supply of draculas has been endless for 118 years and counting. Until then, however, here's hoping Joe Gomez can be as fun as this while the draculas keep coming.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Irrepressible Nate Clyne

(Editor’s Note: Some years ago, Colin and I started this blog. A few people read it and enjoyed it, we had a great time, we improbably started appearing on local radio thanks to Peter Wilt, then it kind of fizzled, some domain squatter took our URL and it all went mostly silent. Here’s a new post for the first time in three years. This is being published without approval or consent from Colin. I didn’t want to insult him by actually bothering to ask him. He has his own fun thing going on now over here.)

The discussion turned to calling Nathaniel Clyne “Nate” sometime Sunday after the sixth or seventh unchallenged pass from midfield was sent directly out of play. The three of us watching over buttery, salty breakfasts and bloody marys didn’t count the number of simple passes played out, though six or seven in the match seems like a conservative recollection. So finding a way to warm up to the new Liverpool guys offered a welcome distraction from Stoke-Liverpool, which was not in line with the hashtag/emoji-fueled Twitter celebration of the glorious Premier League’s bash-a-riffic return.

So baptizing him “Nate Clyne” was the way it went. Three guys at a Shorewood soccer bar on one Sunday morning might not represent a worldwide consensus, but some second-half field testing yielded a promising start. Nate Clyne … Nate Clyne. Say it enough and you picture the guy Nate Clyne likely is once you get to know him. Nate Clyne would help you learn how to surf, even if you’re nowhere near an ocean. “Let’s go over to Nate Clyne’s place. He’s got a couple extra boards.” I’ve never surfed in my life, and I doubt I ever will. But who’d bet against a guy named Nate Clyne making something happen to change that?

Nate Clyne is two crisp syllables. Hard consonant tats and clacks are in there, sure, but they’re unintimidating. Rather, they’re inviting, like a guy whose parents have a cabin up north that they never seem to use. Nate Clyne invited everybody up. Are you going? You’re gonna go, right? Can’t miss a weekend with the guys up at Nate Clyne’s cabin. He’s roasting a pig. Gotta do it.

Nate Clyne is a guy you’d talk to, and it’s certainly a guy you’d talk about. I’d want to be friends with Nate Clyne. Cheering for him is easy, and describing him is even more fun.

As my friend Kurt said during our Nate Clyne workshopping session, two syllables in his name make it easy to describe him too. The Amazing Nate Clyne or The Relentless Nate Clyne. The Irrepressible Nate Clyne. Say all these things aloud, and soon enough that online shopping cart at Liverpool FC dot com will be full of Nate Clyne shirts and baubles. Is there a Nate Clyne keychain? It’s doubtful the world will lack for one much longer.

New signings in a new season lead fans to cheer for the fresh faces wearing the familiar shirt. After all, who didn’t get onboard the Ryan Babel and Andriy Voronin hype train back in the day? So much like Andriy and Ryan were (at least initially, in some circles) beloved at Anfield, it’s time to usher in the new guys and get comfortable around them. Please welcome the friendly and approachable Nate Clyne to Liverpool Football Club. And smile for Bobby Firmino and Jimmy Milner. Joey Gomez is here too. These aren’t new signings that have to prove themselves to you. It’s far too late in the season for that. No one’s going to prove anything. But these guys will teach you how to surf or get a beer for you when they’re up and headed to the kitchen anyway. And for fun, they’ll throw in competent defending on a set piece, if we’re lucky.