Heurelho (Volume 4)
Geoff Wicken salutes a modern-day Watford treasure
It’s not often that a player gets the kind of chance that Heurelho Gomes has had to say an extended farewell to a club’s supporters: the circumstances don’t come around very frequently. But it’s not often that a player makes such an impact, becomes so popular, and is clearly such a force for good.
The part Heurelho Gomes played on the pitch during his five years at the club has been visible to all. And by all accounts his contribution off the pitch has been huge: the dressing-room leadership alongside Troy Deeney; the mentoring of his young compatriot Richarlison; the support of many community initiatives. All done with warmth and compassion. The photograph of Heurelho with Rita Taylor, taken at the recent opening of an extension to Cedars Youth & Community Centre, a community hub run and managed by Watford FC’s Community Sports and Education Trust, captures that warmth and compassion beautifully.
When Heurelho joined Watford in 2014, his career was in need of rehabilitation. After starting off at home in Brazil, he moved to PSV Eindhoven in 2004, and won Dutch championship medals in each of his four seasons there. He joined Tottenham in 2008 for £7.8 million and was their first-choice goalkeeper for three seasons, during which they finished 8th, 4th and 5th in the Premier League. He played 11 internationals, was chosen for Brazil’s World Cup Finals squad in 2010, and reached the quarter-finals of the 2010/11 Champions League with Spurs. But at that point things went downhill. He made a handful of errors in high-profile games and fell way down the pecking order. In 2011/12 he played just four cup games, his last match for Spurs a home defeat to PAOK Salonika in the Europa League group stage. He made nine appearances on loan at Hoffenheim in early 2013, but at the time he joined Watford those were the only first-team games he’d played in almost three years.
He acknowledges that “my time at Tottenham wasn’t how I wanted it to be”, and certainly seemed to think his career in Europe was over. He has spoken of taking the decision to return to Brazil with his family. They were ready to go, and several boxes of belongings had been sent on ahead. Then, the day before his flight, Watford called. Gino Pozzo was re-stocking the squad ready for the 2014/15 season. Matej Vydra came back, Odion Ighalo joined, so too did Gianni Munari, Juan Carlos Paredes and others. Given that he was largely forgotten in English football, some felt that signing Heurelho Gomes was a gamble. It turned out that he just needed to be loved.
If it seemed to take a bit of time to play himself back into form – not unreasonably given his enforced sabbatical – within half a season it was clear that his confidence had fully returned. By that point he was performing at a very high standard, and he played a foundational role in Watford’s promotion. Big, bold, he had an elastic reach and exceptional reflexes. His style meant that he would occasionally give strikers a chance with rebounds, but he regularly saved shots he had no right to save. To mark his 38th birthday recently, someone uploaded onto YouTube a sequence of 38 superb Heurelho saves – it’s well worth watching. Plenty of others were left out, such as both the penalties he saved in the same game at The Hawthorns.
My three favourite Heurelho moments all come from that first season. The first was immediately after his first match, against Bolton at Vicarage Road in August 2014. When he launched into his goal celebration routine as Troy Deeney put Watford ahead, it seemed a bit presumptuous. After all, he’d only been playing for us for 17 minutes. At the end of the game though, with Watford having won 3-0, he went over to the Lower Rous Stand to collect his two boys and lead them across the pitch. They were both wearing full Watford replica kit. Not just shirts, but shorts and socks too. This man had been to the Hornet Shop and was doing it properly!
The return match at Bolton provided my second great Heurelho moment: his astonishing triple-save. It was a pretty wild game, which finished as a 4-3 Watford win. At 2-2, Bolton mounted a dangerous attack, with three forwards taking on five Watford defenders. First Feeney shot early from outside the penalty box. Heurelho, perhaps slightly surprised, dropped to his right to stop the ball, which rebounded out. Le Fondre met it about 10 yards from goal, only to find Gomes flying out at him to block his shot feet-first. Heurelho was now flat on his back eight yards away from his goal. Le Fondre and Juan-Carlos Paredes contested the loose ball, which rolled into the path of Zach Clough in the six-yard box beyond the opposite post. Somehow, Heurelho propelled himself at full stretch along the ground, and arrived at the base of his right-hand goalpost at the exact same time as Clough’s shot. He slid on into the net; the ball stayed out. He even got up, bent down and picked it up. It was pure goalkeeping genius.
But the very best moment of all had come a week earlier, during the home match against Blackburn. Going into the game, early In February, Watford were sixth in the Championship. We were in inconsistent form, with three wins and three defeats in the previous six league games, and knew that Blackburn’s direct approach would be challenging. What’s more, they had the very tall and scary Rudy Gestede on the bench. Gomes had already pulled off one of his instinctive saves to deny Gestede before Ighalo scored late on after a corner. Right at the end came what was for me the defining moment in our season. A quick Blackburn attack brought a cross from the left, which was dropping towards Gestede’s head. Heurelho sprinted out and, as the striker jumped, got in front of him to finger-tip the ball up and over his head. The ball dropped, bounced, and Gomes, having pursued it out of his penalty area, lashed it high into the sky, over the Sir Elton John Stand and presumably into one of the back gardens in Liverpool Road. It might even have gone into orbit. It was an act not of desperation, but of majestic decisiveness and resolve.
That closed out our 1-0 win. I thought to myself at that instant that promotion was on the cards. Heurelho was going to see to it. And from that match on – from that very moment on – we were relentless. Of the remaining 17 games, we won 12, drew three, and lost just two.
Having played such a big part in getting us there, Heurelho has maintained his high standards in the Premier League. He only played in cup matches last season, but absolutely deserved the chance to bow out at Wembley in the FA Cup Final. He gives every impression of a man fulfilled, and speaks of his love for the club and the fans. We love you too, Heurelho. And thank you.
This article is from Volume 4 of The Watford Treasury, to purchase this publication in all its visual glory, please follow the link below: