Liverpool’s lightning-quick signing of Cody Gakpo after Christmas was a shock to many in the football world. Nobody really expected the Reds to sign a forward, and there were virtually no links suggesting they were in for the World Cup star until the day the signing was completed. There were, however, extensive links between Gakpo and Manchester United starting last summer that made it look overwhelmingly likely he would end up playing for Erik ten Hag’s side sooner or later.
Instead, the Reds swooped in and made a deal before anyone even knew what was happening. That includes Gakpo’s manager at PSV Eindhoven, Ruud van Nistelrooy. The former United star spoke this week about his attempts to push the forward to sign for his old club, and he expressed disappointment and feelings that signing with Liverpool was a mistake.
Given all the noise created by van Nistelrooy’s quotes, Gakpo has explained his perspective on the choice to move to Liverpool to try and clear the air.
“To be honest, I spoke to him [van Nistelrooy] a lot about United in the summer when the transfer looked like it may be coming,” Gakpo said ahead of his first Merseyside Derby. “But in the winter, not really. It was Ruud’s wish that I went to a big club - and I think I have achieved that with Liverpool.”
“There was a lot of speculation in the summer. It was the first window where it was possible to move and so, yes, it affected me a little bit.
“But then there was one moment when I just said, ‘forget about it, play your best game, and maybe it will happen next summer or in the winter’. That’s what I tried to do and it went well.”
It did indeed go well. Gakpo’s scintillating form in the first half of the Eredivisie season and his impressive showing at the World Cup led to LFC pushing to bring the forward to Anfield as soon as possible. And, despite Gakpo not allowing himself to be distracted by transfer negotiations during the World Cup or Christmas, a very quick agreement between the player and club is exactly what happened.
“I heard about Liverpool’s interest - and I think five days later the deal was done,” he said. “My manager and brother knew about it for a longer time, but I said to them at the World Cup not to tell me anything because I have to focus.
“As soon as I heard about the interest, the feeling was, ‘come on, let’s go’. You have a second Christmas Day? Boxing Day, right? I was with the family - including nieces and aunties - and I was getting calls all the time about Liverpool.
“But on Christmas Day, I was not on my phone. That is a very important day so the phone was away. It was the very next day that it happened.”
Unfortunately, the Liverpool switch hasn’t gone as well as the 23-year-old would have hoped thus far. Liverpool’s early season struggles have compounded and their form since resuming play post-World Cup has been simply dreadful. This has made it incredibly difficult for a new player to settle in and build up any sort of momentum.
Gakpo has made six appearances but is yet to score his first goal for his new club. Though, it’s hard to hold it against him given the lack of service and support. Still, that doesn’t make a goal drought any easier on a player who is used to scoring quite frequently.
“The guys who say it doesn’t affect them when they don’t score are lying. I am an attacking player so, of course, I like to score goals or give assists - and I also like to win,” Gakpo admitted.
“I am just trying to improve my game and fit how I play into how the team plays. If I can do that, the rest will follow.”
His next chance to open his scoring account with LFC will be tomorrow’s match with Everton at Anfield. If he can manage it, he’ll share something else in common with compatriot Virgil van Dijk, who scored his first Liverpool goal in his debut match against the Toffees.
“Virgil has told me about the derby and said it’s going to be a big fight. He also told me he scored his first goal against Everton - and now I hope for exactly the same.”