Welcome to World Class: Georginio Wijnaldum

Dec 23, 2020, 10:00 AM GMT
Liverpool's recent success has owed much to Gini Wijnaldum's world class ability | #W2WC
Liverpool's recent success has owed much to Gini Wijnaldum's world class ability | #W2WC | Matt Burt/90min
facebooktwitterreddit

Liverpool supporters and Jurgen Klopp have a lot to thank Georginio Wijnaldum's nan for.

The Reds' 2019/20 title winning side were a team built on unwavering consistency, as Jurgen Klopp's side won 26 of their first 27 Premier League matches in a display of unrelenting reliability. Winning was all they knew how to do.

Knitting everything together for Liverpool, a figure of consistency in a team moulded on dependability, the man for the biggest moments, was Wijnaldum.

The midfielder missed just one Premier League game en route to the Reds' record breaking title triumph - but football was not his first love. It was not even his first sporting passion.

Growing up in Rotterdam's Schiemond neighbourhood, an area once renowned for delinquency, unemployment and poverty, Wijnaldum harboured dreams of becoming a gymnast.

However, his grandma deemed the sport - backflips and all - too dangerous. He was forced to stop and football became the number one focus. It's not been a bad backup plan.

Wijnaldum completed his youth career in the Feyenoord academy, making his senior debut aged 16 years and 148 days. He was still at school, and became the youngest player in the club's history.

""Now my daughter is doing gymnastics and I’m a little bit jealous of her because she is doing all the things I wanted to do when I was young.""

Georginio Wijnaldum

He moved to PSV in 2011 in a €5m deal and was named club captain two years later - at the age of just 22. The following season, he captained PSV to their first Eredivisie title in seven years.

This prompted Newcastle to come calling, and in the summer of 2015 he moved to the north east for £14.5m. In the grand scheme of football transfers, it does not seem like a blockbuster signing, but this was the most Mike Ashley had ever spent on a player (costing the equivalent of 14.5m giant Sports Direct mugs).

Wijnaldum blew hot and cold for Newcastle as they suffered the drop - but finished as the club's top scorer with 11 goals, including one in a player of the match performance during his side's 2-0 win over Liverpool in December.

Newcastle's relegation coincided with Klopp's first summer in charge at Liverpool as the German's rebuilding job on Merseyside commenced. The journey to re-establishing the Reds as world beaters began with the recruitment of Sadio Mane and Wijnaldum. The pair are signature Klopp signings; individuals with potential who have blossomed into world class players.

Georginio Wijnaldum
Wijnaldum was the match winner when Newcastle met Liverpool in 2015 | Michael Regan/Getty Images

Wijnaldum's debut campaign at Anfield would be his most prolific in front of goal. The Dutch international netted six times in the Premier League, including important goals against Arsenal, Manchester City and the deadlock breaker against Middlesbrough on the final day of the season as the Reds secured their Champions League return. He was already establishing himself as the man for the big occasions.

The 30-year-old's scoring stats have decreased since moving to Merseyside - he has not hit double figures in the league since leaving Newcastle. He has not registered a Premier League assist since April 2018.

But Wijnaldum's importance for Liverpool cannot be simplified into statistics or YouTube montages (but if they are important to you, he did net eight goals in seven games for the Netherlands during Euro 2020 qualification).

For one, he has been deployed in a deeper midfield role by Klopp than the one he occupied for the Magpies. And the reason he doesn't chalk up many assists is simply because not a lot of Liverpool midfielders do. That's how Liverpool play; the midfielders are the pass before the pass.

Liverpool's adventurous fullbacks are the ones responsible for putting chances on a plate for the Reds' esteemed front three, and they are afforded the licence to roam because of the discipline, athleticism and intelligence of Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson.

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson can surge forward because they know Wijnaldum will be there to bust a gut and mop up if needs be. The Dutchman does the simple superbly. His distribution, assurance in possession and sheer footballing intelligence are understatedly brilliant.

But when he does get a rare moment in the spotlight, when he does briefly take centre stage, Wijnaldum saves it for the most monumental of occasions.

Wijnaldum proved to be the comeback catalyst against Barcelona in 2019
Wijnaldum proved to be the comeback catalyst against Barcelona in 2019 | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The Dutch midfielder scored five goals during the 2018/19 campaign. 40% of those came in the space of three breathless minutes at Anfield as Liverpool pulled off the most remarkable of comebacks in the Champions League semi final.

Thrown on at halftime with Liverpool trailing 3-1 on aggregate to Barcelona, Wijnaldum smashed home from inside the box nine minutes after entering the fray, before leaping like a salmon 122 seconds later and planting a header past Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The Reds would go onto beat Barcelona, and then Tottenham, to lift the Champions League.

The following season it was the Premier League - at a canter. Klopp's side demonstrated just how big the gulf was between themselves and the rest of the top flight during November's 3-1 win over Manchester City - the team that had pipped them to the title the previous season. Wijnaldum was outstanding.

The City midfield were completely overwhelmed as he harried, pressured and pressed. His link up play was exquisite and he effortlessly pinged cross field passes as Liverpool underlined their title credentials.

Klopp demands so much from his midfield - the stamina, work rate and energy required are off the charts. Yet no player has featured more for Liverpool since Wijnaldum joined the club in 2016 - 207 appearances and counting. A mammoth effort. A figure of consistency in one of the greatest sides to grace the Premier League who comes alive on the biggest occasions.

Gymnastics' loss was very much football's gain. Cheers, nan.

facebooktwitterreddit