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Liverpool's loss, Barcelona's gain? Why Klopp would miss 'comfort blanket' Wijnaldum

08:00 BST 07/09/2020
Georginio Wijnaldum Liverpool Barcelona
The Dutch international has been one of the Reds' most reliable performers, but it looks increasingly likely he will be moving to Camp Nou this summer

It moves quickly, the world of football.

Can you imagine a situation, maybe nine or 12 months ago, where Liverpool – and Liverpool fans – would have even contemplated letting Gini Wijnaldum leave the club?

And yet here we are, September 2020, and the Netherlands international looks increasingly likely to depart before the transfer window closes.

Barcelona, sources in Spain have confirmed to Goal, are confident of landing new manager Ronald Koeman’s top target. Liverpool insist there has been no contact between the two clubs, but that is expected to change.

On Sunday, it was reported in the English press that a fee of £15 million ($20m) will be enough to convince the Premier League champions to do business. 

Does that seem a little on the skinny side? It should. Wijnaldum may already have entered the final year of his Liverpool contract, he may be a couple of months short of his 30th birthday, but his value to Jurgen Klopp’s side is clear. 

And it should not be underestimated.

Liverpool will miss him if he goes, that is for sure. They will miss his reliability in possession, his appreciation of space, his relentless work ethic to close down space, apply pressure and fill the gaps that others leave.

They will miss that remarkable strength with his back to play, that composure in the tightest of spaces, that penchant for a big goal in a big game.

Barcelona, of course, know all about that.

Wijnaldum wears the No.5 at Anfield but he has played as a No.6, a No.8 and a No.10 in Klopp’s midfield. He was a No.9 when Liverpool played at Camp Nou last year and has even been part of a back three when the Reds’ defence was decimated by injury.

The former Newcastle man was a keen gymnast as a youngster, and that flexibility has extended into his football career.

Klopp trusts him, especially in the most challenging of matches. Of Wijnaldum’s 187 Liverpool appearances, 11 have come against Manchester City (more than any other side), nine against Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, and eight against Everton.

Big games need a certain type of midfielder, and for four seasons Wijnaldum has been Klopp’s comfort blanket. A large proportion of his 19 Reds goals will be remembered for their significance, as much as their execution. 

“Is he the perfect midfielder?” asked Klopp last year. “From the skillset 100 per cent. He has all the things you need.”

That opinion has not changed. Wijnaldum played in all-but-one of Liverpool’s league games last season, and every one of their Champions League matches too. No Reds midfielder played more minutes. If Klopp had his way, there would be a new contract in his back pocket, for sure.

But there is not, and that really is the key factor.

Talks over an extension broke down earlier this year, and have not been reopened. Klopp has refused to comment, but by saying nothing he has, in effect, said everything. The end is approaching.

Liverpool have allowed players to leave for nothing in the past. Emre Can ran down his contract and joined Juventus in 2018, while the Reds drained the last drop out of Alberto Moreno and Daniel Sturridge before wishing them well and sending them on their way.

Even this summer, Adam Lallana walked away on a free after six years of service. Nathaniel Clyne did likewise, though with rather less publicity.

Wijnaldum’s case is different, though. This is a starter, one of the club’s vice-captains. He is a leader, an example, a dressing room voice, someone who is completely tuned into Klopp’s way – technically, tactically and physically.

Losing a player like that on a Bosman is an absolute last resort for an operator as shrewd as Michael Edwards, the Reds’ sporting director.

Replacing him will not be easy, on or off the field. We all know the midfielder Liverpool fans want, and what a fine player he is, but even Thiago Alcantara will have a job filling Wijnaldum’s boots. And that is if Liverpool even sign him.

Thiago aside – and the uncertainty continues in that regard - the encouragement for Klopp comes in the shape of others already within the club.

Naby Keita looks fit and sharp – long may that continue – while the impressive teenager Curtis Jones appears ready for much greater involvement this season too.

Takumi Minamino, meanwhile, has been a standout in pre-season, and could offer a high-quality option across a number of midfield and forward positions. Minamino was on the scoresheet in the 7-2 friendly win over Blackpool on Saturday, having netted against Arsenal in the Community Shield the previous week.

“Unpredictability,” is what assistant manager Pep Lijnders says Liverpool need if they are to build on their recent success, and perhaps that means a change in set-up, a subtle shift in mentality, a gradual shift away from the tried and trusted. 

Wijnaldum is certainly that, but it appears as if his time at Liverpool is coming to an end.

Their loss will be Barcelona’s gain.