82-year-old Francina Mayland often took care of Wijnaldum as a child while he was growing up in Rotterdam. And as the Dutch midfielder told the Echo, she gave him stability and support at an important time in his life.
“It started when I was young. I had a good feeling when I was with my grandma,” he said. When I was five my mother wanted to leave for another city. Rotterdam to Amsterdam. I was with my grandma, with all my cousins and my aunts we all came together there. Every day after school I went to my grandma’s because my mother had to work. It was normal for me to be with my grandma, so when my mother said ‘do you want to leave for Amsterdam?’ I asked her if I could stay with my grandma because I didn’t want to leave the place where I grew up. At first she was not happy with it and said no, but I then asked my grandma and she said it was okay if my mother agreed with it. After a few times of asking my mother agreed with it so I stayed with my grandma from the age of five to 18. She took me to football and to school. She took care of me.”
Mayland took responsibility for making sure the young Wijnaldum got to football practice, relying on public transit when available and going on foot when it wasn’t.
“She was a great support because although she was old, she was still fit. It was a 45-minute walk to training with Sparta Rotterdam from my house but she would walk with me, even in the winter. She never let me go alone. She was always by my side supporting me. I loved doing acrobatics when I was young, but she was scared that I might hurt myself, break my neck or something like that. I was doing things like back flips in the street. To be fair, she didn’t take me to football to make it my job in the future but more to keep me off the streets and not to do silly things - to make sure I made something of my life. She always said that firstly you have to go to school and after school you can play soccer.”
Wijnaldum said that after he made his senior team debut at 16 for Feyenoord he gave the shirt he wore to the match to his grandma, who has it mounted on the wall in her living room. He also said he tries to watch every game he plays in.
“If she is not at the games then she watches them on television. She has seen me in Liverpool a few times. The first time she came was with my mother and brother when I signed and had my medical. She is still supporting and looking out for me. [...] The most important thing my grandma told me is that I always have to do my best so when I look back later in my career I do not have regrets. That I give everything and that I always have to be myself, even if I get higher in football, you always have to be yourself and never change and try to enjoy it even if it is a hard time. She told me not to lose myself in the situation but try to enjoy the game.”
Georginio Wijnaldum has already become a beloved figure at Anfield this season. There’s no doubt that his close relationship with his grandmother will only endear him further.