Liverpool midfielder Gini Wijnaldum ended last season as one of the players manager Jürgen Klopp used in the more advanced, shuttling roles to support the front three. In the early months of this season, he’s dropped deep to play in the six.
Not just play there, but excel, becoming one of the first names on the team sheet as the most defensively-minded midfielder. It’s a switch few would have expected, but Wijnaldum has made it look effortless, and he credits manager Jürgen Klopp.
“I’ve certainly grown as a player during my time here,” Wijnaldum said. “The expectations are so high at such a big club and that drives you on to become better. [Klopp] has helped me a lot. He can be hard, he’s always on your case, but he’s honest and I like that.
“It’s always in the right way, always for the right reasons. It’s not to make you feel bad or anything like that. He’s really hard but, on the other side, he keeps your confidence high. He says that mistakes are just part of football.
“I remember against Leicester I made a mistake and it led to a goal. He wasn’t angry about the mistake, he was more angry about my reaction afterwards. He thought I was too busy thinking about it rather than just putting it behind me.”
Having grown as a player and developed a rounded game that allows him to play multiple positions has been something Klopp has pushed Wijnaldum to do, but he knows that the end result has been to his benefit as much as the team’s.
It’s meant that no matter the new signings and ensuing midfield permutations, the player many identify as the most likely future manager in the current Liverpool squad will always be in contention to start—whether it’s at the six or the ten or the eight.
“Before I signed for Liverpool I was playing for Newcastle as a ten,” he added. ”Basically, I was always attacking. I didn’t have to do much defensive work, I didn’t play as the six or the eight. Learning to play different roles has made me a more all-round midfielder.
“It makes it easier for you to play more often and it makes it easier for the manager if he has players who can be used in different positions.”