It’s just over four years since Lynden Gooch made his breakthrough into the Sunderland first team. Now just three months short of turning 25-years-old, he is at an age where a footballer should be fulfilling their potential, and in the case of the United States international, becoming a standout player in League One.
In his first real run in the first team, during our ill-fated Championship relegation season, it was clear to fans that here was a creative player with a fair amount of skill, although initially lacking an end product. He would spend much of that disastrous season in and out of the first team as the club crashed out of the Championship, before establishing himself once more as a mainstay under Jack Ross as we began life in League One.
Ross tended to use Gooch to run the flank, and at times at wing back. Although there were some good performances, it is fair to say Sunderland didn’t get the best out of Gooch through that year. The start of last season saw little change, before a period out of the team due to injury coincided with the departure of Ross and the appointment of a new manager with different ideas.
It was Chris Coleman who suggested that Gooch was more of a number ten, and although his return to the side coincided with Phil Parkinson’s poor start as Sunderland’s new manager, we began to see Gooch encouraged to take up more central positions along with Chris Maguire.
As he and the rest of the squad seemed to gain in fitness levels, an upturn form for Gooch saw an improvement in our results. At times, from December through to February, he looked unplayable and the opposition quite often struggled to contain him. At long last, the player who has got it all in his locker looked outstanding in this league.
When Gooch was firing, the whole team did.
You have to love watching him when he is in form, the drop of the shoulder and turn sending a defender the wrong way, a creative eye and blistering goals. The problem is however, which became more obvious last season, is that he is yet to have a full, consistent season.
After his purple patch last season he ran out of steam, and Sunderland’s form dipped too. Gooch was one of a number of players who appeared to need a rest from first team duties, but continued to start every game.
Opposition teams were starting to double mark him, and as the frustration built he began to claim cheap fouls and gained very little sympathy from match officials. It was not helped that the attacking threat of the team fell on the shoulders of himself and Chris Maguire, largely due to the misfiring Charlie Wyke.
Doubling-up on the oppositions more creative players is nothing new, it has always been used by opposition managers to try to stifle any players they see as a threat. Late night TV viewers may have seen in recent weeks the excellent ‘When English Football Ruled Europe’.
Of particular interest was when the two-part documentary focused on Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest side that won the European Cup two years in succession. Footage of the winning Forest goal against Malmo shows John Robertson, a player very similar to Gooch in terms of size, build and playing position, provide the assist for Trevor Francis to score. What caught the eye and made the connection in terms of Lynden Gooch, was that Robertson was clearly being double marked at the time.
There is no suggestion here that Gooch is in the same class as John Robertson. The Forest winger was one of the best of his era, and proved himself against the best in the world during those European Cup campaigns, but Gooch has got the skill set, vision and goal output to be one of the outstanding players in League One.
Unfortunately, rather than fulfilling that potential, he can at times become a frustrated figure. We are not usually privy to the training ground, or the full story of a player and why they might sometimes appear to struggle. We never know if it due to an injury they might be carrying or some off field issue, but from the evidence of his career to date there is a question mark over his temperament.
It showed in a largely comical way at Blackpool in our first year in League One, when the Californian-born midfielder was seething at one of the Blackpool players who had just hammered the ball at Charlie Wyke when a free kick was waiting to be taken, and he required the referee to physically pick him up off the ground away from trouble.
This petulance isn’t the type that will see him collecting red cards, but will result in dragging him into needless battles with the opposition and endless debates with officials, which was never more evident than during home draw against Fleetwood Town in February.
The very best players though, will have the belief in their own skill set to get the better of their opponents, and Gooch has the tools to be up there with the very best in League One. As he turns 25-years-old on Christmas Eve, he will have long left behind the tag of ‘promising youngster’ and if his ambition is to make it at a higher level, then now is the time for him to start to deliver over a full season.
If he could improve his focus when things are not going for him he could take a huge step in the right direction and make him well positioned to fulfil his potential.
After all, if Gooch is firing then Sunderland are firing.