Georginio Wijnaldum: The Player to Hate if You Don't Watch Football

Liverpool and Barcelona have had pretty contrasting summers.

70 days on from officially being made Premier League champions, the new wearers of the crown have not done much to fortify their position on the throne.

Kostas Tsimikas, the 24-year-old highly rated but largely unknown Greek left-back from Olympiacos, was signed for £11.75m to provide competition for Andy Robertson, while Dejan Lovren left for Russia for not dissimilar fee. Otherwise, though, it's been a quiet one.

Pub wisdom says that you must always strengthen from a position of strength, 'win' the transfer window and keep up the never-ending recruitment arms race that serves as a proxy for success.

However, whether FSG can't or don't want to spend big is kind of besides the point. The squad really doesn't need major investment.

Meanwhile, over in Catalunya, it is a raging bin fire.

The incoming Ronald Koeman has been set the task of restoring law and order as the club attempt to wrestle football's biggest wage bill under control, ease out several creaking, jaded legends, deal with corruption allegations, a brewing civil war and, of course, a staying-but-not-remotely-happy-about-it Lionel Messi.

The only thing in the middle of the Venn diagram between Barça and Liverpool this summer is Georginio Wijnaldum.

The 29-year-old Dutchman has just one year left on his Liverpool contract, while most reporting seems to indicate that an extension is not on the cards.

The Reds then are left with the dilemma of whether to sell their midfielder with the most appearances in 2019/20 now, while they still can, or allow his contract to run down to nothing next year.

Barcelona have been linked, due to Koeman's relationship with the player from the Dutch national team and the fact that La Liga's runners-up will likely need to rely on cut-price signings until considerable fat can be trimmed from the budget.

However, rumours about Wijnaldum's future have provoked at best a 'meh' response from many Barça fans on social media, while the concept of a 'Gini out, Thiago in' deal is being lauded by several of a Liverpool persuasion.

The reality that Wijnaldum has become the target for disregard, and even ire, by so many on either side of this transfer story reveals a sub-section of fans that simply don't watch football matches.

Wijnaldum is, to put it bluntly, the sort of player you dislike if you don't actually like football.

Similar to the recently departed Barça star Ivan Rakitic, who suffered at the typing fingers of football Twitter, Wijnaldum is not a player that appeals to the FIFA, Twitter and YouTube comps generation. He is the sort of player you hate if you don't consume games in stadiums or on TV but via the reductive stats on Wikipedia and Transfermarkt.

He is elegant and exceptional in possession but he is quiet.

His role is the hardest to define of Liverpool's typical midfield trio. He is not a destructive shield like Fabinho and he's not a thrusting, box-to-box man like Jordan Henderson.

In possession, he receives, he retains, he passes. Out of it, he presses and cuts out space.

And he does it as well as anyone around.

In 2019/20, Wijnaldum played more minutes than any other Liverpool midfielder and featured in 37 out of 38 Premier League games.

With a near-unrivalled coolness under pressure and the highest passing accuracy of any player in the Reds' engine room, he has been the near-perfect link between defence and attack for a team that has thrived on quick transitions in recent years.

Speaking to the club website last autumn, Jurgen Klopp put it best as he described Wijnaldum as essentially the 'perfect' midfielder.

“It is just so obvious Gini's importance. It is both directions, small spaces, big spaces, it is hard challenges, fine football, pretty much all of that. Is he the perfect midfielder? From the skillset 100 per cent. He has all the things you need," he said.

"It is not my fault if he goes under the radar. You cannot ask me why he goes under the radar. I don’t set the radar!” 

While he is clearly not a regular goalscorer or assist maker for Liverpool - an accusation often levelled at Wijnaldum by the Twitter trolls - he does have the habit of saving his strikes for the big occasion.

He, of course, scored twice in that win over Barcelona but has also popped up with game-changing goals in key games against Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Tottenham and Sheffield United.

For the Netherlands, the former Newcastle midfielder scored nine in eight in nine in 2019 (though, admittedly, six of those were against Belarus and Estonia) where he plays a much more advanced role - as he did on Tyneside and for PSV before his move to Anfield in 2016.

However, for Liverpool that is simply not his function, where the creative and attacking thrust of Klopp's unit comes from the full-backs and front three.

Judging Wijnaldum (or any of Liverpool's midfielders) purely on goals and assists makes about as much sense as it does for Alisson.

Suggestions of a sell-to-buy policy at Anfield this summer have pitted Wijnaldum against Thiago in an increasingly tedious transfer narrative, while Barça fans' desperation for a new dawn have them lashing out at the Dutchman as a way of registering their displeasure with the management generally.

Due to modern football's incessant demand for the obvious, a 'perfect' but subtle midfielder has become a target for two clubs' 'boo boys' without really putting a foot wrong.

Still don't know what Wijnaldum offers? Try watching him play a game.

Source : 90min