With each passing week, uncertainty over Georginio Wijnaldum’s future at Liverpool begins to grow.
The Dutchman — such a key component to the Reds European Cup win last season and their soon to be confirmed Premier League title win — only has a year remaining on the 5-year deal he signed when arriving at the club from Newcastle United in 2016 and the radio silence over any progress on a new contract has the Anfield faithful worried.
Whether Liverpool look to offload their number 5 this summer — or whenever the transfer window takes place in the pandemic afflicted world of football — or, like in the case of Emre Can, let the former Feyenoord and PSV midfield linchpin run down his contract and leave next season on a free remains to be seen.
But in either case, Jurgen Klopp would need to sign a replacement for Wijnaldum. Several players — such as Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Dennis Zakaria and Inter Milan’s Nicolò Barella — in the midfield department have been linked to the Reds in recent weeks.
Ajax’s Donny Van De Beek, though, could be the ideal player to replace his compatriot if Wijnaldum does indeed depart the reigning European Champions.
As his Liverpool stint has gone on, it has become clear that Klopp does not look for specialist players — I.E., a midfield playmaker like Mesut Ozil whose role in the team is confined to one facet of the game — but rather versatile players who can holistically contribute to every phase of play. Evidence of this can be seen in the German’s use of Roberto Firmino as the first line of defence and of Trent Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson’s functions as both full-backs, but also the team’s creative hubs.
And Van De Beek — showcasing the typically Dutch trait of tactical comprehension and versatility — could fit into several roles in the Liverpool team.
Primarily an intelligently moving centre midfielder whose subtle movements and darts into the box go undetected by defenders, the Dutch international scored 16 goals and laid on 12 assists in the 2018-2019 season, a campaign in which de Godenzonen stunned Europe with displays of intricate attacking football that brought them to the cusp — only a late Lucas Moura goal denied the Dutchmen a place in the showpiece against Liverpool — of a European Cup final.
This season, Van De Beek hasn’t been quite as effective but — with 14 goals and seven assists in all competitions — his numbers are still impressive, especially when you consider Ajax lost two extremely important players in Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs de Ligt.
The 23-year-old is adept at the pressing game, too, and offers a level of hard work and game intelligence that Klopp values. In this season’s Eredivisie, Van De Beek averages 2 tackles and .7 interceptions per game.
In the Champions League, though — primarily due to the better teams on the continent playing offensive football and not looking to avoid Ajax’s pressing traps, like lesser teams in the Dutch league, would — the midfielders defensive numbers jump. Here, the 10 times Dutch capped international clocks — on average — 2.2 tackles and 2 interceptions per game.
It’s worth remembering that Wijnaldum arrived at Liverpool as a second striker and or attacking midfielder and was moulded into the role of the midfield glue player and defensively tuned in conduit that let the adventurous full-back duo of Alexander Arnold and Robertson express themselves, without leaving the team exposed on the counter-attack.
This is a role that Van De Beek could perform, while also offering the potential of playing as the false 9 instead of Roberto Firmino. The Dutchman shares several attributes with the Brazilian — including defensive diligence, the observational movements that can manoeuvre defences out of shape and create space for other players and a coolness in front of goal — who, like the Ajax midfield schemer could potentially be, was an attacking midfielder when he signed for the Reds.
Linked with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea, among others, it is widely excepted that van De Beek will leave the Amsterdam Arena — following in the footsteps of de Ligt and de Jong — in the near future. And with Transfermarkt valuing the Dutchman at €44M, Liverpool could do worse with opening their chequebook for the Ajax academy product.