Bet you can’t put a Rowntree’s fruit pastille in your mouth without chewing. I also bet you can’t mention Gini Wijnaldum’s name without breaking out into song.
I suspect I’m not the only one guilty of being able to achieve neither. Liverpool’s chant for the Dutchman has grown to be somewhat infectious and the source of a Wijnaldum-esque beaming grin on the faces of Reds this season.
The final whistle goes and Liverpool have secured all three points away to West Brom. The travelling Kop doesn’t sing for match winner Roberto Firmino but instead Jurgen Klopp’s link man.
What an inspired decision it was from former Feyenoord manager Gertjan Verbeek to begin moulding Wijnaldum from a winger into a central midfielder. A decision that Liverpool are now reaping the rewards of. The natural synergy of the expertise he has picked up and nurtured during his time as a wide-man, as a number 10 and now as a box-to-box midfielder has seen him become vital to Liverpool functioning in the manner Klopp desires. Though he by no means poses as a replacement for Steven Gerrard, he has supplied the goals from midfield, the bursting runs, the defensive discipline and the vision this team had been seriously short of since the Anfield icon’s departure.
There is a subtlety to his game that has fuelled only a gradual enlightenment of what he truly offers this Liverpool team. Beyond the five goals and six assists he has registered this season, he has emerged as a man not only capable of initiating attacks but also the man capable of winning the ball back in midfield to help make the magic possible in the first place. He, in unison with Jordan Henderson, has been crucial in granting the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane the opportunity to do what they do best by disorganising and punishing opposition sides on the break.
An ability to retrieve the ball and have the attacking instinct to bridge the gap between defence and attack so quickly marks Wijnaldum as an asset to his side and, in turn, showcases the value of his re-positioning. It’s as much his defensive work as it is his attacking qualities that make him so well-equipped to oversee of the team’s swift transition from one end of the field to the other. Frantic scenes in injury time during last weekend’s game against West Brom staged a demonstration of what the former Newcastle man offers. A strong challenge to win the ball back on the edge of the Liverpool box and a subsequent driving run into the opposition half with not a tired stride in sight. Midfield work horse, attacking technician, a quiet leader.
His tendency to work on the half turn can be seen to highlight his dedication to individual responsibilities at either end of the pitch but primarily makes him a perfect fit to Klopp’s attacking style. Gini wins the ball back, Gini turns instantly, Gini finds one of the front three, the back four are caught on the break, Liverpool score. It’s for this reason that the club’s reported interest in RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita, already being compared to N’Golo Kante, comes as no surprise. Imagine what he could do with even more space and freedom.
£25million for the 26-year-old has been justified by the man himself. All eyes have turned towards the Brazilian pair up top to drive the club’s pursuit of a top four spot yet Wijnaldum is becoming yet another figure Reds can begin to put their faith in. He lives up to the requirement of ‘knowing what it means to wear the shirt’ and has grown into a habit of producing his all-action performances against the top sides in the division. A habit he will be expected to maintain.
Supporters are desperate for a return to the Champions League. Gini Wijnaldum could well be key in granting Reds that wish.