Rewind just over 12 months and Maximiliano Gómez had never played football outside of his native Uruguay. Brought to Celta Vigo for a fee of four million euros at the age of 20, 10 goals in 12 appearances for Defensor Sporting in the Uruguayan top flight had caught the eye. Despite his relative inexperience, the young forward had already racked up dozens of goals in South America and was still an unknown quantity.
Heading into the 2018/19 campaign, Maxi has World Cup minutes to his name and an impressive goalscoring record in LaLiga already. Juan Carlos Unzué saw fit to hand the young striker plenty of responsibility from the very start in 2017. He replaced John Guidetti in the pecking order immediately, acting as the rugged focal point to the attack with the creative likes of Pione Sisto and Iago Aspas in close support. Antonio Mohamed has since replaced Unzué in the dugout and places the same amount of trust in his star striker.
It did not take long for the goals to flow. Maxi Gómez’s acclimatisation to life at Balaidos has been made to look, with hindsight, incredibly easy. Recent Celta signing Junior Alonso admitted that he found it simple to adapt to the style of play in Spain, and his young teammate can boast of the same experience. At first, there was a definite rawness to Maxi’s game, with his broad frame and physical edge allowing for more experienced professionals to exploit his eagerness and naivety. Yellow cards were a frequent concern, too.
After a full season in LaLiga, however, the Uruguay international is now more streetwise. He has paid big clubs a visit and endeared himself to the home support, he knows what to expect both on and off the pitch but still has a useful group of South American teammates to ensure that he doesn’t feel out of place culturally. Always with a maté in hand and quick to take the chance to go home to Uruguay to fish and relax with his family, playing in a new country hasn’t flustered the 22-year-old.
Few young strikers would be able to show their true quality immediately on a new continent, but Maxi Gómez has taken a huge step up over the short term to show that certain players have the potential to develop radically to fulfil the new demands asked of them at a higher standard of football. 19 league goals in his debut top-flight season in Europe is an unbelievable achievement, not least due to the learning curve that he was met with upon arrival in northern Spain. He is well worth his 50 million euro release clause already.
The Uruguayan’s all-round game has improved massively. It was clear within the first couple of months of competitive action that Maxi had an eye for a goal. His positioning in and around the box was very good, and he appeared to have an acute awareness for where to be to stand a chance of stabbing or nodding home an opportunistic finish. Where he lacked a refined edge was in terms of his build-up play, but this is an area where big strides have been made.
Pione Sisto ended last season with ten assists, while Iago Aspas has chipped in with five. Maxi Gómez, meanwhile, went from a bustling brute of a centre-forward to a player that is also comfortable to drop deep, receive possession and then filter the ball back out wide before repositioning himself to threaten the opposition penalty area. Celta have an exciting front three, as well as an extraordinarily talented central midfield consisting of Stanislav Lobotka and Fran Beltrán. The ammunition will continue to flow.
The framework is there for Maxi Gómez to keep on scoring goals in LaLiga. The new season has seen him net two goals and provide two assists in his opening three top-flight appearances. Another top Uruguayan striking talent is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.