Time For Gini Wijnaldum To Be Unleashed

Time For Gini Wijnaldum To Be Unleashed

Remember the player we all thought we were getting when Gini Wijnaldum signed for Liverpool two years ago?

It was a transfer that came out of left field, with the Dutchman rarely linked with a move before becoming the seventh permanent signing of Jurgen Klopp’s reign.

Wijnaldum had blown hot and cold at Newcastle United, with some Magpies fans critical of his limp, almost disinterested performances away from St James’ Park, but his attacking quality was undeniable.

During the one season the 27-year-old spent in the North East, he fired home 11 goals in 40 appearances for a team who would eventually succumb to relegation, topping their scoring charts in the process.

Four goals came in one match against Norwich City and Liverpool felt the full force of him in a 2-0 defeat at St James’ in December 2015.

It was Wijnaldum’s attacking spark that earned him a move to Newcastle in the first place, with his performances for PSV Eindhoven seeing him singled out as one of Holland’s most exciting young footballers.

He found the net 56 times over four years with the Dutch giants, including 20 in 2012/13 alone, and scored for the Netherlands in their third-place play-off win over Brazil at the 2014 World Cup.

The point of reeling off Wijnaldum’s past goalscoring exploits is because the polar opposite has occurred at Liverpool, due largely to a change in role but also because of what has appeared to be a lack of belief in the final third.

Having flourished as a No.10 at previous clubs and even in a front-three, Klopp decided to use him in a more refined role that none of us saw coming.

In a team full of individual brilliance and players who stand out – in Wijnaldum’s early months it was Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino who earned the most column inches – he was the man who went under the radar, doing the dirty work and mastering the more subtle aspects of the game.

Even the likes of Jordan Henderson and Emre Can, loved by some and disliked by others, were always noticeable, even if they were having an off day.

As these last two seasons have passed, Wijnaldum has continued to be the man that rival supporters would struggle to name if they were tasked with going through Liverpool’s starting lineup.

In a few years, ask a non-Liverpool friend or acquaintance to name the Reds’ Champions League final team and Wijnaldum will be the one they miss.

That is both a compliment and a criticism, in many ways.

There have been occasions when his importance to the Reds has been vastly underrated, not least during high-profile Champions League games last season when he got through commendable amounts of work and knitted things together in the middle of the park.

On the flip side, he has gone missing at times and been downright anonymous, occasionally opting for the easy pass and not taking on responsibility. That’s probably where Newcastle fans had a point.

He is still awaiting his first-ever Premier League away goal, which is a remarkable statistic, and only eight goals in 91 Liverpool appearances is nothing to write home about.

That’s not to say that Wijnaldum hasn’t been a good signing – he has – but there is a feeling that he could be more effective with a little more freedom afforded to him.

After a relatively low-key return to pre-season last month, having arrived back later than others after suffering with a virus and a muscle issue, Liverpool’s No.5 came alive in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Torino at Anfield.

Let off his leash more than we have seen during the vast majority of his time at the club, Wijnaldum excelled with late runs into the box, scoring once and almost bagging a brace.

There was so much intent to his game, continually linking up with the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino, and it suggested a change in role moving forward.

On this evidence, it is a tweak Klopp has to make, particularly as the arrival of Fabinho has made Liverpool more well-stocked deeper in midfield, with Naby Keita also capable of playing there.

Equally, the absence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and failure to bring in Nabil Fekir or someone of his ilk has left a void further up the pitch.

There is a No.10-shaped hole that Wijnaldum should have an eye on, or at least one of the more box-to-box midfield berths, even if he is unlikely to be a regular this season.

He has shown in his pre-Reds days what an impact he can make there and his Torino performance was one of his most promising in a Liverpool shirt.

If he can take his display on Tuesday with him into the competitive season, Liverpool could unearth a new secret weapon that makes them even more potent going forward.