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Wijnaldum Embraces Mentor Role

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The former prodigy is tasked with guiding young Reds — and loves it.

Liverpool v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The list of gifted youngsters presumably destined for greatness who fail to translate their talent into sustained top-level success is a very, very long one. Some simply hit their peak prematurely, fulfilling their promise at an earlier stage than ordinary, hinting at a potential future ability that simply isn’t there. Others make the wrong footballing decisions, staying at a place of comfort too long, or moving up in competition too soon, leading to stagnation. And yet others fall into one or more of the many off-pitch trappings that accompany being young, rich and famous.

Georginio Wijnaldum has succeeded where so many others have stumbled. Making his Eredivisie debut for Feyenoord at the tender age of 16, the Sparta Rotterdam youth prospect made himself a key starter at the Kuip by the time he had turned 18. Transfer links to England, Italy and Spain abounded, but young Gini progressed patiently, gathering experience and trophies with PSV Eindhoven over a period of four years, before collecting his player of the year trophy and making the move to the Premier League in 2015. A season as the sole bright spot for a relegated Newcastle United followed, before his £25m summer move to Jürgen Klopp's Reds.

Now 26 and veteran of over 350 senior appearances, the owner of Merseyside's most contagious smile is in an eminent position to advise his current club's crop of gifted prospects.

“When I see a young player come in to Melwood and speak to them about how old they are, how the early stages of their career is going so far and what they would like to achieve, I always think back to my own experience,” Wijnaldum said when asked about his position as a role model at Liverpool.

“It reminds you of what point you were in your development then, what were the challenges and the lessons, so it helps when you give advice.

He added: “What I like about them is that when you speak to them, they really listen. They are hungry for advice and it reminds me that now that I’m one of the older players having to speak to them and teach them.

“When I met Pep with Jürgen and spoke to him, he explained to me the club’s vision for the youth and giving them the chance to train and learn from the first team.

“I was really happy about this, because it is important for clubs to grow their own players."

Beyond being yet another example of Wijnaldum's sense of responsibility, both on and off the pitch, this whole scene fits nicely into the family dynamic that Klopp is trying to establish at Anfield. Senior players mentoring youngsters creates an attachment and sense of commitment that goes both ways, and that might be the deciding factor in whether a player stays or moves on somewhere down the line, or it may translate into a bond that sees a tight-knit group of players fight back from improbable odds.

Whatever scenario the footballing gods can dream up, affection between staff and players is unlikely to be a bad thing in the end, and it fits the manager's vision, even if it does mean the hottest names don't appear on the summer shopping lists. Hopefully, trust in this process will ultimately yield results.