When Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez was looking to add some width to his team in 2005 he identified Mark Gonzalez as an explosive winger that would bring something different to table. However, the transfer of Gonzalez was far from straightforward as work permit issues prevented an initial move to Anfield and maybe Rafa should have taken the hint there and then. Nevertheless, despite the transfer of Gonazlez being a protracted affair, Benitez finally got his man. But that wasn’t the end of the winger’s difficulties and after just one year in the Premier League, incidentally the time it took for Gonzalez to sign, he was gone again and so entails a story of what might have been.
Nothing seems to be uncomplicated as far as Gonzalez is concerned. Born to Chilean parents in South Africa, Gonzalez returned to Chile and set about his career. Like many South American footballers a move to Spain beckoned for the youngster and he moved to Albacete as a 20 year old, which is where Liverpool’s involvement begins. Spotted by head scout Paco Herrera, Gonzalez was firmly on The Reds’ radar even though Gonzalez was sidelined by a cruciate knee ligament injury that would turn out to be a sign of things to come. Liverpool made a loan move in the summer of 2005 only for Gonzalez to be denied a work permit by the Department of Education and Employment. This didn’t put off Benitez though, and he made a permanent bid later that year which saw Gonzalez loaned to to Real Sociedad.
After a further season in La Liga, Gonzalez was eventually granted a work permit and the agreed transfer to Liverpool finally became a reality. Like many things in life, the longer you are forced to wait for them the higher the anticipation and this was no different with Gonzalez. Much was expected of ‘Speedy Gonzalez’ when he arrived at Anfield and to be fair to the Chilean international he didn’t disappoint. The rapid left winger quickly won over Liverpool fans by coming off the bench to score the winner on his competitive debut against Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League. Gonzalez managed to make 36 appearances and net 3 times during the 2006/07 season, but further success was limited by injuries. He was left screaming in pain after a Theo Walcott challenge in the Carling Cup quarter final encounter vs Arsenal which was one of many injuries he suffered, so are injuries the sole reason why Gonzalez didn’t stay at Anfield longer?
Mark Gonzalez’s solitary season in the Premier League was beset by injuries, but the winger also to some extent struggled with the physical aspect of English football and thus the Anfield faithful didn’t get to see Gonzalez utilise his speed that often. He quickly returned to Spain when Betis signed him for £5m, which represented a decent financial return for Liverpool. Now plying his trade in Russia with CSKA Moscow, the 25 year old still has plenty of years ahead of him and could yet make his mark in the 2010 World Cup with Chile. Given the trouble Benitez had to overcome to sign Gonzalez it might have been worth Liverpool sticking with him for a while longer as they still lack a top quality wide man, with Albert Riera failing to put in a run of consistent performances. However, persistent injuries prevented Gonzalez from shining at Liverpool and that is ultimately where it went wrong for the exciting talent.