Not many youngsters in football are long term, methodological thinkers. Most jump at the first chance they get at the big time, where they envisage roaming around in the tracksuits of either Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool, dressing up their Twitter bios to read 'Premier League footballer' and feeling like they've made it in the game; only to wind up stranded in said club's reserves.
Just ask Kasey Palmer. The 21-year-old found himself at the centre of attention from Chelsea as a 15-year-old taking his first steps in the game at Charlton, where he must've felt his big break had arrived, although unbeknown to him at the time prematurely.
Amongst those he left behind at Charlton, one must've hurt more than most. Lifelong friend and former Sunday League teammate at Under-8s level Joe Gomez remained with the Addicks as he saw his best friend depart for the glitz and glamour of the Premier League, with the move playing on his mind even more so due to the fact the same opportunity was offered to him.
One could only imagine how Gomez was feeling mentally. There must've been sleepless nights wondering if he had made the right decision whilst Palmer was winning the UEFA Youth League at Stamford Bridge, but Gomez wanted first team football; wanted to be involved in the hardships of the professional game, away from the falsities of misleading youth football.
Paul Hart, Charlton's academy manager at the time, had belief in Gomez and wanted to help vindicate the then 15-year-old's mature decision. Having promoted a 13-year-old Gomez to his Under-18s side, the faith Hart had in the boy was strikingly evident.
A sit down with the Gomez family and the teenager's agent allowed Hart to pass on his experience in the game, and helped Gomez visualise the long term vision when others would've pushed and pushed for the glamorous move.
“We didn’t want to hold him back, but we explained we thought it would be beneficial to stay longer, learn his trade and try to get in the first team, and then go. We had his mum and dad, and his agent along and they listened to what we said, trusted us and bought into it", said Hart (via the Telegraph), who Gomez may well owe his successes to in a way.
A few years passed, and the seeds of sustainability that Gomez had embedded in the soil that was his career were beginning to grow, and how he reaped them. Bob Peeters handed a 17-year-old Gomez his first team debut at Charlton in the 2014/15 season, with the defender making 24 appearances for the Addicks operating at both right back and centre back. Significantly, Gomez's first full season ended a full year before Palmer was even named as an unused substitute on Chelsea's bench.
In the summer of 2015, Gomez was afforded another shot at the Premier League. This time, however, he was ready. Liverpool, Arsenal and RB Leipzig stated their interest in signing the defender, whilst Chelsea reignited theirs from years back, but Gomez felt first team opportunities at Anfield would be most realistic.
Brendan Rodgers parted with £3.5m of his budget to bring the Croydon born boy to Merseyside, and whilst a subsequent loan move back to the Championship was touted, Gomez was trusted from day one. After starting and assisting Philippe Coutinho in the Reds' opening day 1-0 win at Stoke, Gomez was a mainstay in Rodgers' side before an untimely cruciate ligament injury threatened to derail his progress.
During his rehab, Gomez saw the man that had signed him depart the club as Rodgers received the sack from his role as manager. Such was the significance of his injury, new boss Jurgen Klopp had to wait more than a whole year before he could merely witness Gomez in training.
Eventually, Gomez made his first appearance under Klopp in January of this year, facing Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup, and he hasn't looked back. A string of solid defences in a typically suspect Liverpool backline have allowed Gomez to reemerge into the Anfield faithful's thoughts once again, with many pining him for greatness; the Kopites not being alone in thinking just that.
International recognition loomed. England boss Gareth Southgate - the former England Under 21's boss who gave Gomez his debut - went one further and decided to hand the 20-year-old his first senior call up for the friendlies against Germany and Brazil.
The first of those fixtures was solid but unspectacular from Gomez, coming on as a substitute for the injured Phil Jones and helping the Three Lions to a clean sheet against the world champions, but the following game had people starting to sit up and take notice.
Joe Hart: “I can’t speak highly enough of him Joe Gomez. He played against one of the hottest players in the world at the moment & dealt with him really well.”— DaveOCKOP (@DaveOCKOP) November 14, 2017
Gomez was handed his first start in an England shirt against Brazil at Wembley, where he would be faced with the immense talents that beheld club mate Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and the most expensive player of all time, Neymar. Gomez looked bereft of the usual feelings a debutant would experience; nervous, wary, anxious, but shackled Neymar to win Man of the Match.
With the World Cup fast approaching, Gomez may well have gone some way to booking his place on Southgate's plane, something that a 15-year-old Gomez could only have envisaged in his wildest dreams back when his best mate Palmer was drawn to the bright lights of west London like a moth to a light bulb.
Palmer can only wonder what could've been as he spends his days on loan at Huddersfield; patience pays.