Ex-Wolves man Fernando Gomez: If I had to do the same again, I would

Can you hear the fans, Fernando?

Wolves midfielder Fernando Gomez crosses the ball at Gresty Road.
Wolves midfielder Fernando Gomez crosses the ball at Gresty Road.

There was something in the air that night, or more to the point that afternoon, at Molineux.

Fernando Gomez, the Spanish sorcerer, took the ball on his chest and, as it looped up, fired home an emphatic left foot volley past future Wolves loan keeper Carlo Nash.

This was the last day of August, 1998, and Wolves were taking on a Stockport side on the crest of a wave having risen to the second tier during the managerial tenure of Dave Jones.

Wolves, too, had generated some upward momentum at the time, winning their first four league games of the season without conceding a goal, and so when Gomez produced his piece of midfield magic – following an earlier strike from Dean Richards - Mark McGhee’s team had notched nine goals without reply.

Unfortunately however, Gomez’s thunderbolt would actually signal a premature end of that early season promise.

Brett Angell was on target twice for Stockport to secure a draw and Wolves only took a point from the following three games.

Anyway, back to the Gomez golazo What a strike it was.

“Ah yes, that Stockport goal, I have watched that a lot of times,” says Gomez.

“It was funny when I was at Wolves because Keith Curle would say to me, ‘Fernando you scored a lot of goals in Spain, why not here’?

“I would tell him that in Spain I played as an offensive midfielder, but at Wolves I was more like a number six, playing in front of the centre backs.

“The opposition penalty box, that was a long way away, and I only scored two goals at Wolves, but that Stockport one was a nice goal!”

Curle, Wolves’ skipper at the time, wasn’t wrong.

Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen looks a worried man as Wolves Spanish midfielder Fernando Gomez hits the side netting.

In 15 years at hometown club Valencia, Gomez had notched 142 goals in all competitions, an incredible return for any central midfielder, attacking or otherwise!

In that decade-and-a-half, having made his debut at 18, Gomez made almost 500 appearances of which 420 came in La Liga, a Valencia record.

Considered as something of a club legend, almost the entirety of his spell saw Valencia ensconced in the top division and, when they did get relegated, they bounced back immediately.

Twice they finished second in La Liga, and once, runners up in the Copa Del Rey cup competition.

If ever there was someone worthy of a Mr Valencia title, it was Gomez!

“My time in Valencia was fantastic because I was born there – it was the club of my city,” he explains.

“And I think it is always very important for a player when he plays in the team of his city.

“Over the 15 years I played a lot of games and got a lot of goals, and we played in the UEFA Cup because the Champions League didn’t exist.

“From a young boy playing in this team to everything else that happened during my time as a player, it was just incredible and so many great memories.”

Why then, would Gomez, in the summer of ’98, swap life in Spain’s third largest city on the east coast of the Iberian peninsula, battling for trophies and playing in Europe, for the delights of the perennial play-off near missers and a fresh start – at the age of nearly 33 – in sunny Wolverhampton?

It was all about life experience, and football experience, and nothing to do with a desire to visit the Black Country Museum or jump on the man on the horse in Queen Square.

“It was a time back then when not a lot of Spanish players went over to play in England,” Gomez explains.

“But for me, after 15 years playing for Valencia, I had a wish to play in England and try and get involved in that exciting football.

“I remember Wolves had a game against FC Barcelona for pre-season, at the beginning of August.

“I was at home and had managed to find the game on television and the telephone rang and it was my agent.

“He said he had heard that people from Wolves were talking to the people from Barcelona and saying they had the opportunity to sign me.

“And the people from Barcelona were saying, ‘sign him now’!

“It is funny how things happen sometimes but I have to say it turned into a very good experience for me to go and play in England.”

In Spain, in his attacking role, Gomez was very much a skilful playmaker, possessing a wonderful eye for a pass and the ability to somehow always find time and space and chip in with that impressive array of goals.

Those are not necessarily the qualities you would expect to see flourish in the English Championship of the late 1990’s.

Under Mark McGhee at the time, Wolves did aim to play some football, with wing backs and a passing style, even if it didn’t necessarily come off.

There was Dean Richards striding out of defence, Simon Osborn spraying the ball around left, right and centre, Steve Corica attempting to carry the ball forward, Robbie Keane’s bag of tricks up front.

That was all aimed to complement the power of others at the back such as Keith Curle and Kevin Muscat, explosive speed of Steve Froggatt, and goalscoring prowess – even in what was now reaching the final curtain – of Steve Bull.

And Gomez showed plenty of flashes of his undoubted talent.

Not only the goal against Stockport, but a deft touch, clever movement, pinpoint passing, including one with the left foot out to Muscat which he then crossed into the box for Bull’s 306thand final Wolves goal, against Bury, which made its way back onto social media on its recent 23rdanniversary.

“I think back to that team, Robbie Keane, Simon Osborn, Steve Bull, there were lots of very good players,” says Gomez.

“They wanted another midfielder who wanted to play good football, could pass the ball, and always associated well with his team-mates.

“For me, apart maybe from the physical characteristics of English football which were different to Spain, I felt good playing at Wolves.

“I tried to adapt as best as possible, and I think I did it.

“It was certainly different from Spain – at Valencia we had 100, 200 or 300 fans at training every day and lots of interviews there with the media.

“In Wolverhampton I remember only maybe a couple of interviews and no supporters inside the training ground.

“As I say I always wanted to try English football and I think it was a good decision.

“I always talk about how I played in the FA Cup, such a big competition, and I will never forget my time at Wolves.”

Unfortunately Wolves’ excellent start to the campaign with those four straight wins pre-Stockport didn’t continue, and, with only two victories from the following 12, McGhee was dismissed.

Although Gomez started both of successor Colin Lee’s first two fixtures at the helm – the 6-1 win at Bristol City and 2-1 success at home to Sheffield United – ultimately the new man was moving in a different direction.

“There were two or three months when I remember fans asking me if I was injured but my reply was ‘no, I am playing in the reserves’,” says Gomez.

“That period after Colin Lee took over was not so good for me, and eventually I moved on.”

Gomez chalked up 22 appearances in total, adding a goal at Tranmere in his penultimate Wolves outing to that howitzer against Stockport, and does have a nagging feeling that things could have been better.

Not least as he and his family settled so well in the village of Claverley, and were very much enjoying their English experience!

“Claverley is on the way to Bridgnorth so we could go there when we wanted to and my wife went to the gym in Telford,” Gomez recalls.

Fernando Gomez

“And my son and daughter were able to study in Wolverhampton and both enjoyed it.

“I mentioned already how it was different for me in England with not so many interviews and it was all a lot calmer and quieter - I enjoyed it a lot.

“We lived in a nice house in a nice village and I just had to worry about playing football, nothing else.

“I got on well with the other players as well, Steve Sedgley, Osborn, Muscat, Neil Emblen.

“Dean Richards – what a player he was – Robbie Keane, Steve Bull.

“When you think about it then you find it difficult to believe that team didn’t get promoted.

“That was the target and the objective, and Mark McGhee didn’t achieve it and so he was sacked.

“That was a shame, and I still think back to Wolves and think lots of times that I would have liked to stay for one or two more seasons because I really enjoyed it.”

Having left Wolves Gomez did enjoy one more season, with CD Castellon back in Spain, before hanging up his boots.

And as we bring things up to date during an international break from Premier League action, it is worth also remembering that Gomez also played for his country, including as a substitute in Spain’s win against South Korea at the World Cup in Italy in 1990, the same tournament of course where Bull made several appearances for the Three Lions of England.

Gomez won eight caps for Spain, scoring two goals. Should it have been more? He remains, as ever, philosophical.

“It is very different now for the national team where every time they meet up they play two or three games.

“It wasn’t always like that, and I didn’t win a lot of caps, only eight.

“But I got to play at the 1990 World Cup, I got to play for my country, and that is enough for me.

“Not many players from Valencia got to play for Spain back then, it was often made up of Real Madrid and Barcelona players, but I was one of the chosen ones from Valencia and that is another thing that I am really proud of.”

With his footballing pedigree, it probably comes as no surprise to discover Gomez has remained heavily involved in the game after retiring from playing.

Despite such a short time with Wolves, his memory of his team-mates, the games, the area, is absolutely spot-on.

His grasp of English, despite one or two worries pre-interview, is equally as accomplished.

The footballing mind is very much alive, and sharp!

And so for Gomez, life moved on from directing operations on the pitch to off it instead, so far in various roles as manager or Football/Sporting Director, as well as national media work which included covering Valencia when former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo was at the helm.

He is currently back with CD Castellon in the Spanish Primera Division RFEF (third tier) as Football Director, his final club as a player and one where he also spent three years in the same leadership role between 2002 and 2005.

He spent the years between 2008 and 2011 as Director of Football and vice-president of Valencia, and has also managed at teams in the third tier in Spain as well as delivering coaching courses.

“It is obviously fantastic to have stayed involved in football and I have enjoyed all the different roles a lot,” Gomez explains.

“When I was a manager it was exciting, taking training, the games, thinking about the opposition and the best way to play and to win.

“The nerves came back a little bit for that on the day of the matches with that feeling of wanting the team to perform well and wanting to win.

“As a football director or sporting director it is different and you have lots of responsibilities.

“You have to try and form a squad, sign players, sell players, work with the coach and have a more overall responsibility for the football at the club.

“Back at Castellon we are in what is the Third Division after being relegated but are trying to be promoted again.

“The budget is different and there are many challenges but we are trying and it is always exciting when you are trying to be successful.”

Exciting no doubt at the weekend when, as Wolves were defeating Newcastle at Molineux, Castellon were also winning at home, against Barcelona’s ‘B’ team.

Fernando Gomez

At 56, there are plenty more miles in the tank for Gomez, and while strongly focused on his current role, who knows what the future holds for the long term.

There is still a motivation to return to the dugout if at all possible at some stage.

“I love football, and with all my experiences I understand football as well,” he says.

“I would say that players who have been under my responsibility feel that they have been managed well and developed.

“I think working in Spain over the next few years it will be as a Sporting Director and not a manager because people here associate me with those positions.

“But I think maybe abroad one day I could try as a manager again.

“I just love still being involved with the game and I always will.”

And still too, Gomez keeps an eye on Wolves’ fortunes, thanks to his brief but much-cherished stay over two decades ago.

He admits to particular interest in the fortunes of compatriot Adama Traore, and remains fully tuned in to the considerable progress made at Molineux in recent times, with a Wolves team now operating and thriving within the Premier League environment which Gomez and company were so keen to try and reach all those years ago.

Fond memories however, will always remain.

“I am very proud to have been a part of Wolverhampton Wanderers,” he concludes.

“It was only one season, but I am proud.”

So for Fernando, ‘there’s no regret’ and if he had to do the same again, he would.

For a short time back then he was shining there for you and me and all of Molineux. Especially against Stockport.

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