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How Barcelona’s €55m outcast Andre Gomes has been reborn at Everton

15:00 GMT 20/12/2018
Andre Gomes Everton 2018-19
The Portugal midfielder endured two years of struggle at Camp Nou, where he was booed by his own fans, but has rebuilt his confidence at Goodison Park

The date is March 4, 2018, and boos echo around Camp Nou as Barcelona take on title rivals Atletico Madrid. But the crowd's jeers are not for the visitors, their manager or even the match officials. They are for one of their own.

On the touchline, Andre Gomes is preparing to come on for the injured Andres Iniesta, acutely aware the fan displeasure is aimed squarely in his direction.  

Even his own team-mates are uncomfortable with the reception he is receiving, with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen gesturing to the supporters, questioning why they would dish out such treatment to a Barca player.

It was not the first time the Portugal international had been booed by his own fans, his dream move to Catalunya having rapidly turned into a nightmare.

Gomes arrived at the Camp Nou in the summer of 2016 on the back of European Championship glory with Portugal and seemingly on the path to greatness.

Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus were some of the sides linked with the former Benfica man before his €55 million (£49.3m) switch from Valencia. He was even touted as a future Ballon d'Or winner, such was his burgeoning potential.

But the price tag seemed to weigh heavy on Gomes’ shoulders as he struggled to impress in a Barca shirt, despite being handed 27 starts in his first season by boss Luis Enrique.

The dynamism in his play appeared to dissipate, he would play the safe pass instead of taking a risk and looking to open up the game in the final third of the pitch. That is not what is expected of a Barcelona midfielder and the fans, used to seeing Iniesta and Xavi stroking the ball around, made their feelings known.

The media also began to turn on him. In May 2017 Gomes was voted “worst signing of the season” by readers of Marca. He had become a figure of fun. It was no laughing matter, though.

The ridicule only caused Gomes to retreat further into his shell, trapping him in a downward spiral. He made just 11 starts in all competitions under Ernesto Valverde last campaign and didn't feature at all in their final six matches.

The weekend after the Atletico game, Gomes opened up about his struggles in a magazine interview, admitting his time at Barca had turned “into a kind of hell” and he was often so “ashamed” of his performances he wouldn’t leave his house.

Sport at an elite level can be brutally unforgiving and Camp Nou, football’s own Colosseum, contains some of the game’s harshest critics with the highest of expectations. Gomes won’t be the first or last to buckle under the pressure.​

Consequently, he deserves credit for admitting his psychological battles in a society that is still trying to truly understand mental health, none more so than in the macho environment of a football dressing room. Thankfully, things are now looking brighter for the 25-year-old.

Five months after publicly discussing his anguish, Gomes was on the move, joining Everton on a season-long loan.

A hamstring injury meant Gomes missed the opening weeks of the season, only returning to fitness at the end of October. He was thrown straight into the starting line-up for the visit of Crystal Palace, helping the side to a 2-0 victory.

The following week, Gomes stood out as Everton were unlucky to lose 2-1 at Old Trafford. He was then named man-of-the-match in wins against Brighton and Cardiff as the Toffees climbed into the Premier League top six.

His graceful composure on the ball and ability to pick a pass are the kind of attributes Everton have been missing in the heart of their midfield for years. It is little surprise, therefore, that Evertonians are already smitten with their new midfield maestro.

Toffees supporters know a good player when they see one, but they also see beyond simply a player’s technical ability. They love nothing more than to take a player under their wing and into their hearts, part of the ‘People’s Club’ ethos that runs right through the institution.

Recent examples of ‘lost souls’ looking to revive their careers at Goodison include Steven Pienaar and Mikel Arteta. Both arrived having endured difficult spells at previous clubs but quickly developed an affinity with the fans and genuine affection for the club, allowing them to flourish on the field.

England 1966 World Cup winner and former Toffees winger Alan Ball once said that "once Everton has touched you, nothing will be the same". It seems Gomes is experiencing that phenomenon first hand.

Four days after his debut against Palace, Gomes joined a group of Everton supporters on an open top bus tour of Liverpool. When he spotted a young fan who was feeling the cold, Gomes took him to the club shop and kitted him out with an Everton jumper and scarf.

That same week, he was pictured carrying and hugging a young fan during a community event at the club’s Finch Farm training ground.

 

There is genuine affection for Gomes from Evertonians and it seems the feeling is mutual.

Indeed, he recently revealed he was ”loving life” at Goodison Park, telling Sky Sports: "I feel happy, I feel different. It's a mix between freedom and enjoying what I am doing now. It's not a job; it's what I love to do. I have that feeling again.”

But what of the future? Manager Marco Silva and director of football Marcel Brands have made it clear they want to make Gomes’ move permanent, but there is no buyout clause in his loan contract.

That has led to speculation of offers from elsewhere, including Premier League rivals Tottenham.

Gomes’ positive comments about his early months on Merseyside have certainly put Everton in pole position for any permanent move, however, with the adulation he is receiving on Merseyside making those Camp Nou boos seem like a lifetime ago.