As news broke in Spain on Tuesday night, it appeared that Gini Wijnaldum was edging ever closer to a Liverpool exit. Jürgen Klopp’s ultra-reliable number 5 is on his way to Barcelona, it seems.
According to Spanish publication sport.es, Ronald Koeman hopes to make Wijnaldum one of his first signings since taking over at Camp Nou.
With the Lionel Messi ‘situation’ up in the air, and likely to continue for some time yet, the Catalan club is looking to establish some form of stability in preparation for their 2020/21 campaign. Koeman sees Wijnaldum as a central figure in his blueprints for the rejuvenation of Blaugrana.
Undervalued, underappreciated and on the way out the door?
Many Reds fans, like myself, are unsure just how to feel about this whole situation. Wijnaldum has only one year left on his contract and talks don’t appear to be progressing much between his representatives and LFC. If he leaves, it will be far more likely that Liverpool get Thiago Alcântara’s signature from FC Bayern. While it would be fantastic to get Thiago in, the effect of Wijnaldum’s departure cannot be underestimated.
This summer, Liverpool have already said goodbye to Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana. While neither player, especially Lallana, played a major role on the pitch in the last two seasons, they were still senior members of the squad and vital to the dressing-room atmosphere. Klopp has spoken at length about the level of professionalism both players consistently displayed at Melwood and the influence that can have on other first-team members, youth players and the club ethos as a whole.
That was Lallana and Lovren. Now, consider the impact Gini Wijnaldum’s departure could have. Wijnaldum, much like Jordan Henderson and James Milner, appears to be the absolute ultimate professional – completely devoted to his craft. The positive response to his leadership and clout on the training pitch is something that cannot be quantified. As is the case with his Dutch international teammate Virgil van Dijk, Wijnaldum is held in the utmost respect among his peers.
Ronald Koeman has targeted Wijnaldum for a reason. The versatile midfielder scored 8 goals in just seven appearances for the Netherlands during their Euro 2020 (2021) qualifying campaign under Koeman. Wijnaldum played a huge part in leading his country to a second-place finish behind Germany and automatic qualification for the finals.
With Arthur having left for Juventus and Ivan Rakitić returning to Sevilla, Koeman wants Wijnaldum at Barcelona to form a new-look midfield alongside the incoming Miralem Pjanić.
At 29, Wijnaldum is still in absolute peak condition and looks like he has at least two or three years left at the top level, if not more. The sport.es article claims that Barcelona are hoping to sign him for under £18 million. This would be around £7 million less than Liverpool paid for him in 2016.
Klopp’s Gini in a bottle
Gini Wijnaldum was one of Jürgen Klopp’s first signings as Liverpool manager, joining the club in the summer of 2016. He became one of Klopp’s go-to players in the middle of the park in the four years since. Wijnaldum was The Reds’ most-used midfielder last season as the club romped its way to Premier League success. He started 35 of Liverpool’s 38 league games, scoring four goals along the way in 2019/20.
Some fans have been highlighting the fact that Wijnaldum failed to register an assist in the league. But Klopp uses Wijnaldum in a far-more refined role than what he’s used to playing for the Netherlands or, indeed, the role he performed for Newcastle in the year before moving to Anfield. In his only season with The Magpies, Wijnaldum scored 11 goals and provided five assists – and that was for a team that was relegated that season.
It’s not Wijnaldum’s job to provide the cutting edge for Liverpool. He’s a very, very important cog in a well-oiled red machine. That’s not to say Wijnaldum hasn’t contributed in The Reds’ attacking-third, however. He has scored some vital goals in hugely significant games in his time at the club – his header to beat Manchester City on New Year’s Eve 2016, the opening goal in Liverpool’s must-win game against Middlesbrough in 2017, and, of course, his two goals after coming on as a second-half substitute as The Reds beat Barcelona 4-0 to progress to the 2019 Champions League final.
Wijnaldum has been rightly-praised for being a very ‘press-resistant’ midfielder, maintaining composure and keeping possession in the toughest of circumstances. He is also the player who deserves the ‘midfield-pendulum’ tag that Brendan Rodgers prematurely popped on Joe Allen’s head back in the day.
Whether Liverpool sign Thiago or not, Wijnaldum leaving will be a loss the club won’t be able to judge the extent of until the end of the 2020/21 season.
It seems that a decision by Liverpool to let Wijnaldum leave for Barcelona would be based more on the fear of losing him for free next summer, seeing as he has not signed a contract extension.
As fickle football fans, we always want that shiny new toy – in this case, Thiago. Yet, if that means discarding his perfectly-functioning predecessor, is it definitely worth the risk?