It’s a common complaint that there are no characters in football any more. While this is less true in Serie A - particularly off the pitch - there is a certain joy in a player who is a maverick in all senses.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is adored for his acrobatic goals and arrogant interviews, Mario Balotelli for his childlike antics off the pitch and his ephemeral brilliance on it. Jimmy Bullard’s cheeky style won him a legion of fans, while Antonio Cassano’s ‘Cassanate’ draw affectionate frustration.
If those particular cult heroes have become a bit blasé, fear not. Embrace the cult of Atalanta’s Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez.
The Argentine attacking midfielder, standing at just 5 feet 5 inches, is a genuinely exciting footballer. Primarily deployed on the left wing, he dribbles past his opponents with glee, evading flying boots and ducking stray elbows.
Having perfected the ‘Gol alla Del Piero’ style of cutting in from the wing and bending it into the far corner, the diminutive winger has already scored eight times for the Orobici this season, as well as providing four assists.
Not that he can only score one kind of goal - take a look at his goal against Frosinone last season, an absolute rocket on his left foot. Not impressed? The man scored direct from a corner against Carpi.
Such has been his form this season, as Atalanta have mounted an unlikely European challenge, Gomez has been linked with the likes of Roma and Milan. Having admitted that he’s waiting for “important European clubs”, he could also be seen in England, Spain or Germany next season.
As with all of football’s cult heroes though, it’s not just on the pitch where Papu provides the entertainment. Back in December, a video of him playing beach football with his son went viral. One might think that this would be a classic father-son bonding moment, but not for Gomez. As his son dribbles with the ball, Dad unleashes a proper two-footed challenge. He then claimed to have won the ball.
Not content with turning beach football into trench warfare, Gomez has also opened-up a photoshop battle with teammate Andrea Petagna. Efforts include Papu as Bart Simpson writing “I must give more assists to Petagna” on Springfield Elementary’s blackboard, the pair as “thunderbuddies” Ted and John, and rapper Drake proclaiming them to be better than Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
Still not enough for you? Gomez is Atalanta captain, and has taken some creative liberties with his armband. The 28-year-old has proudly led out his teammates with Frozen’s Anna and Elsa around his bicep, not to mention Albert Einstein, the original PlayStation and all manner of 00s nostalgia.
Do you remember Tamagotchis, MSN Messenger and Blockbuster Video? Gomez does, and he’s got them on his armband while banging in goals in Serie A. You don’t get much cooler than that.
Given his form this season, Gomez looks set to leave Atalanta in the summer. If he joins one of Europe’s biggest clubs, the extra exposure will bring Papu to a far wider audience. Get on board now, and you can say he was your favourite player before it was cool.