THERE we have it. Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum becomes Jürgen Klopp’s sixth permanent signing for Liverpool, completing a £25million transfer from Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle to join up with the Reds on their pre-season tour in the USA.
After what seemed like an eternal cycle of transfer links concerning a proposed move for Udinese’s Piotr Zielinski and the seemingly unattainable Mahmoud Dahoud of Borussia Monchengladbach, it comes as an almighty relief to finally put these rumours to bed. The former looks destined to join AC Milan while the latter will stay in the Bundesliga for the time being.
A midfielder was a priority on Klopp’s summer shopping list and now we have one — albeit not quite in the mould of the ‘controlling’ midfielder most had expected given the profiles of previous targets. This was one of those transfers which came almost totally out of the blue and at first glance it might seem counterintuitive for Klopp to sign yet another attacking midfielder given the plethora of options at his disposal already.
On further inspection, however, this transfer begins to make a great deal of sense in the larger scheme of things. Described by Benitez as a player who is “so good, he can play everywhere and do well,” Wijnaldum comes with an expansive and highly accomplished skill-set which means he can slot seamlessly into various different systems and play various different roles, depending on the occasion.
You can, therefore, start to see the thinking behind this one given the vast array of tactical options Wijnaldum will be able to offer to Jurgen Klopp as he shapes a multifunctional and malleable squad filled with quality players in each position ahead of the new season.
Although Benitez claims Wijnaldum is best utilised as a number 10, behind the striker, the Dutchman is capable of occupying all three positions behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 system, his pace and athleticism making him a viable option out wide. Having also been used in a deeper role both at PSV Eindhoven and for the Netherlands, Wijnaldum could provide an ideal option as the most advanced midfielder in a 4-3-3 system, or potentially even as part of a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 formation — although that would require more work on the defensive side of his game, something Klopp will surely look to develop.
The general opinion among Newcastle fans seems to be that Wijnaldum is a vastly gifted footballer, but one who only showed his true ability in patches last season. Inconsistency and a tendency to disappear in away fixtures (he failed to score away from home all season) characterised his debut season in England, leading to question marks over Liverpool’s decision to fork out £25m on another streaky player — a criticism also levelled at Sadio Mane.
Yet when we consider that Wijnaldum was playing in arguably the most underperforming side in the Premier League, ridden by a crippling lack of confidence, it should perhaps be expected that his form would dip at times while acclimatising to a new league and living in a new country. A tally of 11 goals and five assists from midfield is still highly respectable — even if four of those game in one game against Norwich.
Goal records are not necessarily transferable from one club to another, but the fact Wijnaldum outscored every Liverpool player in the Premier League last season should give Reds fans something to be excited about. A lack of goals from midfield has been highlighted as a major weakness in Liverpool’s squad — the likes of Can, Milner and Henderson full of energy and dynamism but severely lacking in terms of killer instinct in front of goal.
His numbers read 29 goals and 10 assists in 82 club appearances in the last two seasons for PSV and Newcastle. That equates to just under one goal involvement every other game — a very strong output for a midfielder, while he also has six goals in 30 senior international caps for the Netherlands.
That is something Wijnaldum will certainly offer with his tendency to burst forward and get himself into the penalty area in scoring positions — something Marko Grujic has shown encouraging signs of in pre-season so far.
Wijnaldum’s pace and ability to carry the ball forward, willing to dribble past players will also add a whole new element to Klopp’s midfield options.
One fact which has been somewhat overlooked is that Wijnaldum appeared in all 38 Premier League games last season, not picking up a single injury throughout his debut campaign in England. Liverpool fans will be well aware of the damaging effect injuries have had on results in recent seasons, so Wijnaldum’s outstanding fitness record is further reason to be optimistic about his arrival.
Whether he will be a regular starter remains to be seen — much of that will depend on the system Klopp decides to use on a game-by-game basis. What is undeniable, though, is that Wijnaldum can operate in a number of roles more effectively than the likes of Lucas, Allen, Henderson, Lallana and co — and will at the very least provide strong competition for places in the side. With Mane expected to leave to take part in the African Cup Of Nations for Senegal in January, Wijnaldum could also plug that gap very nicely indeed.
As was the case with Mane’s arrival, there has been plenty of scepticism with regard to the transfer fee. Questions have also been raised as to why Wijnaldum, seemingly an alternative to Zielinski, is costing £10m more than Liverpool’s initial primary midfield target. However, in the hyper-inflated transfer market of today, £25m for the former PSV captain and 2014-15 Dutch footballer of the year — a midfielder with a track record of bagging double figures in goals per season — is not such an extortionate fee.
What matters most, however — and is perhaps the most encouraging thing about this deal — is the manner in which it was concluded. Within a week of Liverpool’s reported interest, talks progressed quickly and efficiently to the point where a fee and personal terms were agreed without any hiccups on this occasion.
The owners have backed Klopp to secure another major transfer target — one who has been brought in very much in line with Klopp’s own plan and vision for the club. Inconsistent he may be, but the talent is certainly there — and at the age of 25, there is plenty of time for the manager to work with and hone those raw materials in order to elevate Wijnaldum to the next level at Liverpool.
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