He’s famous for his off-field antics almost as much as what he does on the pitch. From appearing on social media ballroom dancing, playing “keepy-uppy” on the beach with his wife and making a bizarre music video of his famous goal celebration, Atalanta forward Papu Gomez is certainly a character.
He may like to play the clown, however the performances of the 30-year-old prove that he leaves his crazy in the dressing room. His career began in the youth sector of Arsenal de Sarandi in his native Argentina, and Papu would receive his first call-up to the senior side in 2005. A move to San Lorenzo would follow, but it was in 2010 that the 22-year-old first moved to Italy, signing for Catania after attracting attention from European scouts.
Here’s where it gets a bit weird.
Success with Catania – including six months of working under then novice boss Diego Simeone – meant that several big Serie A sides were interested in capturing the forward’s signature, however he ended up in the Ukrainian league with Metalist Kharkiv citing Champions League football as the reason for his departure.
“In 2012, before I went to Metalist Kharkiv, I had dinner with Simeone in Buenos Aires,” Papu admitted to Marca recently. “He wanted me to join Atletico Madrid. Unfortunately, Catania wanted too much money.”
It was a shame that such a move hadn’t worked out for Gomez, as his time in Ukraine turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Just five months after the pint-sized star had arrived in January 2014, he was already asking for a transfer to Fiorentina but eventually stuck it out until the end of that campaign.
“I cannot stay in Ukraine with the political situation as it is and people being killed in the street,” Gomez told Football.ua at the beginning of the following season. “It’s an anguished situation, very unstable, as we are all sad and living in a state of panic.”
He returned to Italy that September, arriving in Bergamo to join up with Atalanta. There, he has benefited from the 2016 arrival of Coach Gian Piero Gasperini more than any other player. The experienced boss has taken the club to new heights, qualifying for the Europa League in each of the last two seasons and is a huge fan of his veteran striker.
“Gomez was extraordinary two years ago and excellent last year,” Gasperini declared in a press conference last month. “This year, too, he’s keeping up a consistent level of form. His range is a bit different, he plays farther back and more centrally, where he can help distribute play.”
Indeed, in that number ten role, Gomez has provided all five of his total league assists this season, scoring four of his five domestic strikes from further back too. Even at 30 years old, he continues to put in top level performances and those versus Everton in September 2017 were among his best ever, introducing this little-known, underrated player – and the “Papu Dance” celebration – to a wider European audience.
However, Atalanta now face losing their star – who was handed his first ever call-up to the Argentina national side in May ‘17 – in the January transfer window. Reports suggest that Independiente are keen to secure his signature, while clubs in China and the UAE are also said to be ready to offer a lucrative financial offer to persuade Gomez to make the switch.
Perhaps he will be cautious over leaving Italy after having his fingers burned in Ukraine, but what’s for certain is that Papu Gomez will not shy away from making a controversial decision if it is the right thing to do for him.
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