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Sentimentality Versus Business — The Ugly Side Of The Beautiful Game

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While fans can afford to be sentimental about the players they love, clubs like Liverpool absolutely cannot when making decisions about the future.

Liverpool v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Yesterday, we all witnessed what was probably the last time we will ever see Georginio Wijnaldum in a Liverpool shirt. It was the end of one of the most underrated careers for the club. Gini will be remembered for famously scoring two in the second half against Barcelona, giving Liverpool the lead against Middlesbrough on the last day of the 2016/2017 season to clinch a Champions League berth, and some of the best displays of ball retention under immense pressure. Jurgen Klopp has called him the smartest player he has ever coached, and he has the best damn smile on the team.

While Gini is undoubtedly underrated, he is still beloved by Liverpool fans the majority of Liverpool fans, and rightly celebrated as a club legend. He was one of the most consistent players of the Klopp era, almost always fit and ready to put in a massive shift in midfield. This past season, he started 34 games in the Premier League, and featured in all 38. He played almost 3,000 minutes in a season where no other midfielder had over 1,900 minutes.

As a fan, it is extremely hard not to get caught up in the emotion and sentimentality tied to the players we love. We become attached to them, and hate to see our favorites go, especially when they have been a huge part of so many huge moments. So when we see a player the ilk of Gini run down his contract and turn down Liverpool’s contract offer, we can’t help be be frustrated by the club. He has done so much for so long, he deserves a big contract. Just pay the damn man, right?

Unfortunately, this is where the ugly side of the game comes in. While it is a game to us (or a matter of life and death according to some), it is a business for the clubs. While fans can afford to be sentimental, Liverpool as a club cannot be. They have to manage the roster and look ahead for the longer term. As Elwood (He Drinks Sangria for those around back in the day) likes to say, it’s all about the succession planning baby.

And here begins my hot take. With Gini turning 30 earlier this season, Liverpool have rightly made the right decision not to offer a longer term contract to a player on the wrong side of 30 who has played a massive amount of minutes over the past few seasons. They brought in Thiago Alcantara on big money this past season to replace Gini as Liverpool began to shift the style of play to have more attacking verve from midfield. When all players are healthy, it would likely be Thiago starting in place of Wijnaldum with Fabinho and Jordan Henderson. Wijnaldum still seemingly wants to be a regular starter, and isn’t ready to take a more reserve role. With the injury history of Thiago and Hendo, there will likely still be a decent amount of minutes, but Liverpool seem happy enough to bring in a younger, cheaper midfielder to join Curtis Jones as depth with an eye to taking over a regular spot in the course of the next few years. For example, Liverpool could offer Yves Bissouma triple his current wages of £25k a week, and it would still be less than what Wijnaldum made. The club can’t let sentimentality cloud their vision for the future of the club.

As frustrating as it is for fans, both parties are in the right in this situation. Gini should have the opportunity to find a spot where he can be a key player for the bulk, if the the rest, of his remaining career. Liverpool should take sentimentality out of the equation and make the best decision with the longer term plan in mind.

This same logic applies to players like Nat Williams and Rhys Williams. Both players were a massive part of Liverpool’s great run at the end of the season, stepping up in a big way to help Liverpool secure a Champions League spot. While they should rightly be revered for their play, Liverpool will still be looking to bring in Ibrahima Konaté and potentially one more center back as players who would be a better long term fit for the club’s style of play and ambitions.

Well, that’s the end of my hot take. Now is the part where you get to roast me in the comments.