Editor’s Column: Maybe we didn’t appreciate Gini Wijnaldum enough

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Last season, with Gini Wijnaldum failing to make a name for himself at Paris, I wrote that most often, the grass isn’t greener for Liverpool players who push for a move elsewhere.

It rarely is. Just look at Emre Can, Coutinho, Gini and possibly even Sadio Mane, who has found himself on the bench for Bayern Munich in their stuttering start to the Bundesliga campaign…

But perhaps it is also the case that Liverpool miss these players more than we previously assumed we would upon their departure.

Now, I’m not necessarily arguing that it wasn’t the right time to get rid of Wijnaldum. He was poor in his final season with us (2020/21) and his performances hadn’t merited the kind of elite salary he was after.

But what might also be the case is that Liverpool fans didn’t quite realise Wijnaldum’s brilliance and importance during his pomp.

An on-form Fabinho, a healthy Jordan Henderson and the player who was used the most of the three, Wijnaldum, really made up the perfect midfield for the style of football Jurgen Klopp played, and is currently failing to play.

Watch this highlight clip of the trio’s performance in our famous victory over Manchester City during our title-winning season. Off the ball, the pressing and harrying is exceptional, as is the cleverness of the interceptions and positioning. The ball retention is top-class and they hunt as a pack, never too many metres away from each other.

Right now, Liverpool are using a version of Fabinho who looks mentally and physically drained, with not much either side. James Milner’s legs have gone, while Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho are lightweight and while talented, nothing like the Wijnaldum-type midfielder of Liverpool’s pomp.

Thiago is obviously insanely good, but herein lies the problem. The Spaniard has never started more than 26 league games in a season throughout his entire career. During his six years in England, Wijnaldum made 38, 36, 33, 35, 37 and 38 Premier League appearances per term. The most underrated attribute of any footballer is his availability.

One Wijnaldum was worth more in terms of available minutes than Thiago and Naby Keita combined, which makes a mockery of the claims our midfield is actually plentiful in terms of options. If those players are either not good enough or injured, it’s not plentiful.

As a player, we probably didn’t appreciate Gini enough either. He could tackle, run, dribble and tick over possession. He didn’t get into the box much or provide cutting through-balls, which was used to criticise him, but he wasn’t instructed to. Nobody could get the ball off him and his energy was almost unrivalled. This season we’ve seen huge gaping holes in our midfield. Wijnaldum was so positionally effective, this simply didn’t happen when he played under Klopp.

Klopp’s comments upon selling Wijnaldum suggest he’d have liked the club to have forked out the money to keep him on a big contract. The Dutchman has failed to perform since he left us and endured his worst season in his final Liverpool campaign, so while it might have been the right time to part ways, we certainly haven’t replaced him.

Thiago has similarities and is much more dangerous creatively, but his consistent injury problems make him half the player he could be for us in terms of effectiveness. Thiago is a better footballer than Wijnaldum, but Wijnaldum was a better football for us to rely upon.

At his best, he could dominate a game in multiple areas of the pitch, too. Watch this clip of him against Spurs, a big rival. Now, think of a Liverpool midfielder who could replicate anything similar… There isn’t one.

We were great last season without Gini, especially in the middle of the campaign, which some will think makes this article defunct. But the point being made here is that such an exceptional player was never treated like one during his tenure. We longed for someone who scored more – who would blast one in from 30-yards…

The truth is Wijnaldum was already the player we hoped Naby Keita would be. We just couldn’t see it at the time.

Liverpool’s task in coming windows will to buy players who can provide some of his quiet genius. Moises Caicedo or Ibrahima Sangare might be a nice place to start.

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