Liverpool defender Joe Gomez has received a welcome confidence boost ahead of his first-team comeback after manager Jurgen Klopp insisted a squad place was kept open for him during his lengthy absence.
The 19-year-old is the only player in the official first-team squad not to have featured in any match – competitive or otherwise – under Klopp.
Gomez sustained a serious cruciate knee ligament injury on England Under-21 duty four days before the German’s first match in charge having replaced Brendan Rodgers in October 2015.
After a few outings for Liverpool’s under-23 team Gomez is set to play his first senior match in 16 months in Sunday’s FA Cup visit of League Two Plymouth, ending a long wait for both the young centre-back and his manager.
“It is worth keeping space in the squad for Joe,” Klopp said.
“Sometimes life should be nice and the train is not running away without you and that is what we always thought about.
“We took him for a reason – before I was here (Gomez was signed by Rodgers from Charlton for £3.5million in June 2015) – and it was a good reason.
“Everyone is sure about his quality but he is still a very young boy.
“We will try to somehow create some space so he can develop and perform when possible.”
While he has not had a chance to see what Gomez can do on the pitch, the Liverpool manager has got to know the teenager very well off it.
Gomez’s rehabilitation meant he spent long hours at the club’s Melwood training ground and was there long after active members of the squad had left. That put him into regular contact with Klopp, who also puts in long hours.
“For a player who has never played for me we have a good relationship,” said the Reds boss. “I spoke more to him than to most of the other players because we are always here longer than the players so we had dinner together a lot.”
Gomez’s long spell in rehabilitation had an unwanted by-product in that the 6ft 2in defender bulked up considerably with all the time he spent in the gym – something Klopp admits they had to do something about.
“Already we have had to step back a bit from this development. He has no muscle issues I would say,” he said.
“Players always need to be mobile and that is more important but when you train that long at this age you are a little bit skilled in muscle growing – but he is already much more mobile again.”
While the future looks brighter for Gomez things have not improved for fellow centre-back Mamadou Sakho, who has spent all season in the under-23s after angering Klopp with his attitude on the club’s summer training camp.
The France international has been told there is no way back for him at the club and rejecting the chance to go out on loan in the summer transfer window has only delayed the inevitable.
“The situation is clear. At this moment there is no reason to talk (to him),” Klopp said.