Joao Gomes is the ‘pitbull’ midfielder and a triumph of Wolves recruitment

Joao Gomes celebrates assisting Nelson Semedo's goal against Fulham
Gomes could earn his first cap for Brazil next month against England - Getty Images/Jack Thomas

Joao Gomes is the Wolves hero who celebrates tackles in front of supporters as if he has scored the winning goal in an FA Cup final.

In a modern game so in thrall to speed, risk and freedom of expression, Gomes is the serial disrupter who serves as the steel to accompany the silk in Gary O’Neil’s flourishing team.

At a cost of just £12m, the Brazilian midfielder is a triumph of shrewd, focused recruitment. He has also developed a huge following as a cult figure on the Molineux terraces.

With his first cap for the national team on the horizon later this month – possibly against Gareth Southgate’s England next week – Gomes is a player whose reputation is only growing.

While Pedro Neto and Matheus Cunha are the stars most likely to emerge as targets for Premier League rivals this summer, Gomes is also attracting serious attention.

Wolves do not expect to sell the 23-year-old this year, though the recruitment process to source a replacement is already underway.

Gomes epitomises the business model for club owners Fosun: to buy young talent with high potential at relatively cheap prices between £8m - £15m, and then sell on for a huge profit in years to come.

Gomes with manager Gary O'Neill and teammate Hwang Hee-Chan after victory against Tottenham
Gomes scored two goals on the way to a massive away victory against Spurs recently - Getty Images/Jack Thomas

Sporting director Matt Hobbs played a key role in Gomes’ discovery towards the end of 2022 with the club’s recruitment team.

“The way he is playing, there will be clubs watching him for sure. I know there are,” he says.

“The perfect player for us might not be someone else’s perfect player but Joao fits here.

“They are not always going to work, but you stand more chance of them working if you have a manager who believes in them and plays them.”

Gomes provides a weekly reminder that there is still nothing more satisfying for a midfielder in his position than a brilliantly executed challenge.

Indeed, Gomes is third in the Premier League charts with 83 tackles this season, behind Fulham’s Joao Palhinha and Sheffield United’s Vinicius Souza.

An old-fashioned ball winner with relentless energy, he was branded ‘The Pitbull’ at his former club Flamengo.

He operates alongside Mario Lemina in the centre of a four-man midfield, which usually includes two wing-backs in Nelson Semedo and Rayan Ait-Nouri.

Lemina is vastly experienced and has proved a major influence on Gomes, talking him through games and working with him in training to improve his passing.

Perhaps Gomes’ best game this season was the 2-1 victory over Treble winners Manchester City in September, when O’Neil’s tenure first really sparked into life.

The story of his move to the West Midlands is an intriguing one.

When Wolves first spotted him, there was another future Premier League midfielder firmly on their radar.

First identified by Wolves’ scouting co-ordinator Elliot Sutcliffe, Gomes was on a list of targets in Brazil which also included River Plate’s Enzo Fernandez.

While Fernandez would go on to join Benfica, and then Chelsea last year for a staggering £106m, Gomes’ career path has been far more straightforward.

There were initial problems over the payment structure with Flamengo, which led to a concentrated campaign on social media from Wolves fans with the hashtag #FreeGomes.

Once that was resolved, and Gomes rejected rival interest from Lyon, he agreed a five-and-a-half year contract. It became clear very early on that The Old Gold had struck gold.

On his debut as a second-half substitute, he scored the winner in a 2-1 win at Southampton with Wolves down to ten men after the dismissal of Lemina.

Tommy Doyle (left) and Gomes elated after victory over Brighton in the Premier League

Since that first season, he has taken his game to a higher level and managed to cut out some of the raw elements which led to regular encounters with referees.

Now fully settled in Wolverhampton, he is expecting his first child with his wife, Mylla Vieira, later this year.

Gomes has a stammer speech impediment and has spoken openly about the challenges that it presents, but it has not held him back. His English is now very good, in a dressing room of many other nationalities.

With an FA Cup quarter-final against Coventry City looming this weekend, Gomes will be invaluable in a game likely to be high on emotion.

The last time Wolves met Coventry was in 2014, with the two clubs in League One.

At that time, Gomes was just a teenager growing up in Rio de Janeiro’s Piscinao de Ramos district.

He often reflects on his journey from aspiring kid to cult hero in the battleground of the Premier League, and there is much more to come.

“The fans buy into Joao Gomes,” says Hobbs. “He has the personality and even in Brazil he was celebrating random tackles that really didn’t need a celebration.

“The fans see that and they like it, and that’s why they buy into it. That’s why we do so much work on the personality of a player because it has to fit this club.”

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