'I enjoy being out of my comfort zone - I like a challenge'

Thursday 03 Sep 2015
Joe Gomez looks focused during training with England Under-21s this week
Joe Gomez nods in agreement with the metaphor that is put to him.

Over the last year he has been presented with a variety of hurdles to overcome and so far the galloping defender has cleared all of them.

After playing a major role in helping England Under-17s to the European Championship title in May 2014, he was quickly thrust into the Championship with Charlton Athletic at the start of last season.

Joe Gomez during training with England Under-21s at St. George

Joe Gomez was called up to the U21s for the first time for the games against USA and Norway

Just over 20 appearances later, he had caught the attention of Liverpool and also jumped up to represent England U19s following his early-season appearances for the U18s.

It did not take long for Gomez to make an impression following his switch to Anfield this summer either, and after catching the eye on their pre-season tour to Asia and Australia, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers had no qualms about him starting the new Premier League campaign in his first-team.

Now, he is the youngest member of the new-look England Under-21s squad, who start their next Euro Qualifying campaign against Norway on Monday.

And the quietly-spoken 18-year-old would not have it any other way, as he admits the prospect of constantly pushing himself to reach new heights is what keeps him focused.

"I’m just trying to learn and constantly challenge myself," he told TheFA.com, from the U21s’ base at St. George’s Park.

"I prefer being somewhere when I’m a bit out of my depth and need to challenge myself.

Joe Gomez impressed again for Liverpool

Joe Gomez has been a regular at left-back for Liverpool this season

"Here, with the older boys and experienced players who have played a lot of first-team football, it’s something I relish and as well as trying to learn from them, it’s a challenge as well.

"That’s something I prefer to do, rather than settling for playing at my normal level.

"But it has been surprising for me. In the last year, I got the chance to play for Charlton, which was a great experience for me and then off the back of that season I had the opportunity to go to Liverpool.

"That was something which I really couldn’t turn down and I’ve enjoyed it.

"They’ve made it really easy for me to settle in, but having that season playing first-team football in the Championship helped me prepare myself to go to Liverpool."

Aside from successfully leaping over all the hurdles set for him so far, another challenge has been playing away from his favoured role in central defence.

But given that he has figured as a left-back for the first time with Liverpool this season only makes his progress even more impressive and Gomez admits he has been enjoying his new role.

England players celebrate reaching the European Championship Final

Joe Gomez was part of the England U17s squad who became Euro champions in 2014

"At Charlton, I was playing at right-back so I suppose it’s similar but it is a bit different being on my weaker foot," he added.

"But, it’s all helping me. I’d like to play centre-back eventually in the coming years, but it helps me positionally to play as a full-back.

"And I’m enjoying it, getting up and down the wing and it’s been good."

If he needed any tips on attacking the flanks, then he does not need to look too far as Gomez has quickly struck up a rapport at Anfield with fellow south Londoner and U21s newcomer Jordon Ibe.

"I’ve got on well with Jordon and have been quite close to him since I moved to Liverpool, so it’s helped with him being here too," revealed the Lewisham-born stopper.

"We’re a similar age, we’re the young boys in the team and we’re both from London so we get on well. I’ve really enjoyed it so far and it’s been a good experience of my first time coming away with the U21s.

"There’s some top quality players and all of the other boys have made me feel comfortable settling in, been very welcoming and it’s been good.

"But I’m glad to be here with the U21s because it’s a good learning experience for me and with Gareth [Southgate] and Steve [Holland], it’s a nice environment for me.

"I always enjoy coming away with England and it was a great to win the Euros with the U17s last year.

"Last season, we didn’t do as well with the U19s but it was another good age group so hopefully this can be a good year."

Gomez and his new squad-mates take on USA’s U23s at Preston North End’s Deepdale on Thursday evening. 

Tickets cost just £10 for adults and £5 for concessions and are available on the evening.

By Nicholas Veevers At St. George's Park