x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Jordi Gomez winning hearts and minds at Wigan

The Catalan is fast becoming a key player in the English Premier League side's midfield, writes Andy Mitten.

Jordi Gomez, centre, the Wigan Athletic midfielder, attempts to round QPR goalkeeper Robert Green during last week's 2-2 draw at the DW Stadium. The Catalan is finally winning over the Wigan crowd. Adrian Dennis / AFP
Jordi Gomez, centre, the Wigan Athletic midfielder, attempts to round QPR goalkeeper Robert Green during last week's 2-2 draw at the DW Stadium. The Catalan is finally winning over the Wigan crowd. Adrian Dennis / AFP

The shy young Spaniard seemed overwhelmed by the reaction. Jordi Gomez had showered and changed from his football kit to a suit. Everyone wanted to shake his hand as he left Swansea City's Liberty Stadium towards his car, ready for the five-minute journey back to his rented flat in Swansea's redeveloped marina.

Fans swamped him, hugging him, chanting his name and telling his Spanish girlfriend that he was a legend.

It was September 2008 and Gomez, a Catalan, had been living in Britain for only three months. His previous experience had been with the reserve teams of Barcelona and their neighbours Espanyol, for whose first team he also appeared three times.

The Swansea fans were delirious because Gomez had just scored the only goal in the first game in nine years between Swansea and their arch-rivals, Cardiff City. He struggled to comprehend the importance, but he did not struggle to adjust to life in Britain.

Gomez arrived on a £200,000 (Dh1.1 million) season-long loan at Swansea from Espanyol after Andrea Orlandi sang the praises of the club to him. Orlandi, the former Barca player, had arrived in Swansea a year earlier and was Gomez's friend. His girlfriend's sister was – and still is – Gomez's partner.

The two Catalans played under another Catalan, Roberto Martinez. Rarely rushed, even in tight situations, Gomez flourished in Swansea's 4-5-1 formation, mainly at the centre of a three-man midfield. He was named in the Championship's Team of the Season.

Martinez did well, too, and was hired to manage Wigan Athletic of the Premier League in 2009. One of his first actions was to sign Gomez, with Wigan paying £1.7m to Espanyol. It was smart business for the cash-strapped Catalans as they profited from a player who had been schooled at Barca's Masia and been with them for only one season.

Gomez featured in 25 Wigan games in his first season, 20 in his second (just nine league starts) and 29 (24 starts in all competitions) last season. It was not always plain sailing for him.

"Jordi had some difficult moments when he wasn't being selected," said Orlandi, now at Brighton & Hove Albion, a Championship side.

That was an understatement. An element of Wigan fans did not take to his perceived languid style, preferring the unfettered tackling of Lee Cattermole or the ferreting style of Shaun Maloney. They took to calling the Catalan "Jordi Slowmez".

"He's turned it around by working really hard, almost too hard," Orlandi said. "I tell him that he's too professional. He studies his games on TV to see where he's gone wrong, he's into fitness and yoga and that has helped him develop his core muscles and be physically stronger. He's started to run differently, he's actually got quicker as he's got older."

Gomez's self-imposed exercise regime has worked; he has become a key Wigan player.

"Like many Spanish players, he always had excellent technical ability and he can find space away from his marker with his first touch, but now he's used to the rhythm and pace of the Premier League," Orlandi said. "Getting a new two-year contract lifted his confidence and he's become an excellent player. He's mentally tougher and he thrives in that role behind the striker because he gets in good goal-scoring areas."

Gomez, 27, scored all three Wigan goals in their 3-2 win over Reading last month.

"He's not unlike Michu at Swansea," Orlandi said. "He's intelligent in that he knows you don't always have to run, that you can be calm, control the ball and the pace of the game."

Martin Tarbuck of the Wigan fanzine Mudhutter said: "Gomez's perfect hat-trick against Reading was vindication for a player maligned by a significant portion of the crowd. He's recently taken to Twitter to respond to his critics in the most eloquent of fashion, proving himself to be something of a thinker.

"Even the stats show that Wigan are more likely to win when Jordi plays. They also say that he covers more yards than most other players – dispelling the lazy myth – but sadly too many people have set their stall out, as they often do with flair players, and even the hat-trick had them saying: 'About time. He's been rubbish for three years.'"

Gomez has the confidence of his manager and, if his good form continues, he will surely gain the confidence of his critics, who at present do anything but support him.

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