December 6, 2015. Jürgen Klopp hadn’t been here long, and nine-year-old me was watching the Reds with my Dad, a weekly tradition.
Though this particular match stands out to me, ironically, in memory. We were playing Newcastle United away, and I was particularly annoyed that Simon Mignolet had been chipped by a certain Magpies player – sealing a frustrating 2-0 defeat.
It’s crazy to think that, just over three years later, that same frustrating Newcastle player would score twice to help propel Liverpool to their second Champions League final in two years and, ultimately, lead Liverpool to their sixth Champions League title.
That bloody Georginio Wijnaldum.
Fast forward a year and a half, and that bloody Georginio Wijnaldum signs for Liverpool FC for £25m – though many pondered whether that amount was justifiable for a relegated midfielder.
Though, at the same time, the 25-year-old arrived on Merseyside with the reputation as a ferocious attacking midfielder with a knack for a goal or two – the Dutchman himself confirming it.
He said: “I think as an attacking midfielder I’m best because I’m fast, I can make goals from behind the defence. Because I can score goals, I think that’s my best position, but I can also play other positions and that’s what I did (in the 2014/15 season).”
Though this wasn’t to be the case for Gini at Liverpool – destined to drop into a balanced central midfield role as a versatile, box-to-box midfielder, pulling the strings of the Liverpool midfield from the shadows.
His statistics showed promise in that area, still – 11 goals and five assists in his single season with Newcastle, including a grand total of 81 goals and 35 assists in his time in Holland (also a title winner with PSV Eindhoven in 2014/15).
What Wijnaldum could have offered in his favoured attacking midfield position, we’ll never know – though I don’t think many Reds would be particularly bothered by this. He proved to be a critical man in central midfield.
His first season as a Red could not have gone better – 36 appearances, six goals and nine assists in the league, with a further two assists in the League Cup, when the Reds fell to Southampton’s sword at the semi-final stage.
He had integrated into the Liverpool midfield with relative ease, and topped off his inaugural season with a powerful right-footed strike against Middlesbrough on the final day – the opener of a win which gave Liverpool Champions League football after a three-year absence.
Though his participation in the following season also proved critical, more than the last, however – playing in 13 of the 14 games up to and including the Champions League final.
“It was just unfortunate how things went in the final against Real Madrid.” said Wijnaldum.
“Things didn’t go our way but we learned a lot from the experiences of last season. We beat some very good teams. Everyone in Europe knows who we are right now.”
Also contributing a goal and two assists in 33 games in the league, playing yet another pivotal part in another promising campaign, with a UCL runners-up place and a solid fourth-place finish to show – though the Reds could have finished even higher, had it not been for a slight drop-off.
Next season, the 2018/19 season, held much promise for Wijnaldum and saw him truly etch himself into Liverpool history.Embed from Getty Images
This next season, along with the iconic 2019/20 title-winning campaign, were without a doubt Wijnaldum’s golden years as a Liverpool player. Claiming a Champions League winners’ medal and being ever so close to the fabled Premier League trophy, alas with a total of 97 points.
A total of 47 games, five goals and one assist from Wijnaldum in this season, the Dutchman once again had a massive role to play in this Champions League (and almost, painfully, Premier League) winning season, glued down in that centre midfield role as he had been consistently in the last two. Though, most notably, it was the Champions League where he left his mark in the Anfield air.
In a do-or-die semi-final second leg clash against Barcelona on May 7, 2019, 3-0 down from the first leg, Wijnaldum was brought on at half time in place of the injured Andy Robertson. 1-0 up at this point, Liverpool still had to score three goals to even consider booking flights to Madrid.
In the space of just 122 seconds, Wijnaldum scored two quick-fire goals to even up the scorings, sending Anfield into a frenzy and paving the way for Divock Origi’s famous (or infamous if you’re from Catalonia) “corner taken quickly” goal, writing the next page of the ‘famous Anfield nights’ book.
What a night for all who witnessed.
Then, on June 1 of the same year, Gini went on to lift the biggest prize in European football, the Champions League. He had finally done what he said he would – win a trophy with Liverpool.
But this was not only the Champions League – it was also Liverpool’s first trophy since the League Cup in 2012, and also paved the way for the long-awaited Premier League win the following season. Wijnaldum, though vulnerable to some critics who don’t see his true contribution, was vital in this victory.
“Winning the Champions League has given us all peace of mind. Now we know what it’s like to win the biggest trophy of them all – and we just want to keep going from here and add even more titles.”
Then, in his fourth season, came the one. The English Premier League. That sweet, sweet trophy that had avoided us for the last 30 years.
47 games played, six goals scored in the 2019/20 season. So far, that is 136 games played in three seasons. He also helped the Reds complete a historic international treble – a UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup, along with the 18/19 Champions League – a world first, courtesy of Liverpool. Another enormous part to play in a title-winning team.
Wijnaldum’s last season went well individually, though the team went through major struggles, finishing third.
Throughout the constant chop-and-change of the starting XI last season, Wijnaldum was the sole immovable presence. While the player next to him had a different face every weekend, the Dutchman ploughed through the Premier League season, playing a part in all 38 games – not to mention helping Liverpool to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, eventually bowing out to old foes Real Madrid.
In his last game for Liverpool, Crystal Palace at home, Wijnaldum received a standing ovation as he was replaced for James Milner in the 78th minute, and also received a guard of honour.Embed from Getty Images
“I will miss the player he is like crazy – highest-quality ability, one of the smartest players I have ever had the privilege to coach. His contribution was off the scale, a manager’s dream.” said Klopp.
“But as a person he’ll leave just as big a hole. A more giving individual you could not wish to meet. Gini is very strong and opinionated, but his motivation is only to help the team – always. His teammates adored him and respected him in equal measure.
“His smile lit up our workplace. He was a huge part of our beating heart.
“Of course, he is now someone else’s and on behalf of the team we wish him great success in France with PSG. It is no surprise he’s joined such an amazing club. Knowing his personality, he will fall in love with the city and the team – and they with him.Embed from Getty Images
“Farewell, Gini – you came, you saw, you won the lot. You’re a Liverpool legend now and forever.”
As the subs board came up, and the Anfield crowd joined together in their chorus for their beloved Dutchman, Wijnaldum took one last look round at the stadium as a Liverpool player. In his heart, he would have known he achieved something here.
Farewell, bloody Georginio Wijnaldum.
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