In a very short while, one of the many heroes of Jürgen Klopp’s reign as Liverpool manager, Georginio Wijnaldum, will be free to make pre-contract arrangements with other clubs.
As it stands, the Dutchman looks set to leave Anfield on a free transfer. There has been much speculation over the reason for contract talks stalling but, if this season has shown anything, it is imperative that Liverpool do everything they can to keep not only one of their best players, but one of the leaders so crucial to maintaining the team’s relentless drive for success.
Throughout Klopp’s reign, there has rarely been such debate over the impact of a departing player. The most notable was, of course, Philippe Coutinho, but his sale ultimately raised the funds for Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker.
It feels like Wijnaldum could be the player to break this trend. After all, some believed his place might be under threat with the arrival of Thiago – a time when Fabinho was meant to still be playing the holding role. Since then, though, injuries have meant Gini has reaffirmed his importance to the side, consistently playing for club and country during an increasingly difficult period for the Reds.
From a squad point of view, it’s hard to tell how much of an impact Wijnaldum’s departure could potentially have. With everyone fit, it would still leave Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keïta, Curtis Jones and Thiago. However, six of those seven have already been injured at some point this season, with Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keïta and Thiago experiencing significant layoffs which has left Klopp bereft of options in midfield.
Moreover, it was hoped this would finally be the season when Liverpool’s Guinean international would finally kick on, but injuries continue to push him back, leaving increasing scepticism over Keïta’s ability to consistently stay fit.
At 30 years old, the current Netherlands captain is in his prime. He has made more than 200 appearances for the Reds and has improved year on year after his £23 million move from Newcastle in the summer of 2016.
Liverpool’s midfield, bizarrely, still cannot quite seem to shake its critics owing to a perceived lack of goal threat, despite European Cup and Premier League glory. Arguably Wijnaldum’s best strength, though, is his ability to do the hard yards. When a team sends its two full-backs forward so consistently and has as brilliant a front three (four including Diogo Jota) as it does, then somebody is going to be needed to work extremely hard in the middle.
The Dutchman has consistently produced for Liverpool in key moments – without which few of the club’s now historic moments might have failed to come to fruition.
The opening goal against Middlesbrough on the final day of the 2016/17 campaign to settle a nervy Reds side to secure Champions League qualification. Consistent performances against Manchester City. A header away from home in Rome to help the Reds on their way to Kyiv and, of course, his brace in the 4-0 triumph over Barcelona. That two-goal haul is what will always be remembered. but those crucial moments of progress – those which may seem forgettable now owing to other successes – simply would not have been possible without Gini’s influence.Embed from Getty Images
Klopp has taken Liverpool to such heights that it’s hard to see why anybody would want to leave. Barcelona, currently in a period of transition and political turmoil, has been the club mentioned most and it’s clear that manager Ronald Koeman is an admirer. Inter Milan has also been touted as a possible destination for the Dutchman.
Perhaps it’s simply a desire to win somewhere else. After all, Thiago could have quite happily opted to remain at Bayern Munich, where further trophies no doubt awaited, but that is simply not the mindset of elite professionals. Rather than remain, the Spaniard chose to push himself and head to England to prove himself a winner at another elite club – admittedly a challenge which thus far has been derailed by injuries.
Liverpool fans often have a complex relationship with those who make the decision to leave – Raheem Sterling knows that more than most – but Wijnaldum should leave with nothing but praise if he chooses not to sign a new deal. He has more or less won everything there is to win at Anfield, and if he wants to push himself to new heights before his career draws to a close, then that’s entirely his prerogative.
One can only hope we don’t find ourselves repeating that old adage should he head to pastures new – you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
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