I’ll admit I didn’t think much of
AndyGini Wijnaldum first time I laid eyes on him.
From the off, the signing of Georginio Wijnaldum seemed curious. Out of place. What does Jurgen Klopp want with yet another attacking midfielder? From a relegated Newcastle, no less?
It was just one of many times that Kloppo proved he knows more about football and man management than pretty much anyone on Earth. Pundits and fans be damned. Because he wasn’t signing “just another attacking midfielder.” He was signing one of the best midfielders in the world. We just didn’t know it yet. He was signing a player that would start nearly every match in the league and Champions League, once we finally qualified for the Champions League, that is. More on that in a bit.
I’ll sheepishly raise my hand and admit that I wasn’t that impressed by Gini at first. Even when he started playing for us. I’m ashamed to admit, but this was one of my first tweets about him:
Wijnaldum... pic.twitter.com/oTRmMc0ib1— Zachary A Marx (@80couches) September 10, 2016
This was sent out while we were in the process of dismantling reigning champs Leicester City 4-1, by the way. Because I’m obviously a smart and observant football writer, and not a total gobshite who doesn’t understand how top-level football works.
I can at least take solace in the fact that I wasn’t alone in my Gini skepticism. Regardless of fan reaction on the Bird App, Klopp kept picking him. Week-in and week-out. And eventually most fans started to “get it.” He was the heart of the engine room. He kept possession, moved it around intelligently, pressed, and did everything Klopp asked him to do.
And for 5 years, he gave this club everything.
We can often damn Gini with faint praise by talking about his more pedestrian qualities. But of course he gave us plenty of big moments too. He was an integral part of the journey from midtable anonymity to English, European, and World Champions.
As alluded to above, to win the Champions League, you have to qualify for Champions League. And that might not have happened without one of the most important goals in recent Liverpool history, Gini’s late first-half strike on the final day of the 2016/17 campaign. The goal gave the Reds a crucial lead in a must-win match to finish 4th.
It was such a great goal, I started (and inadvertently ended) my Great Goals “series” with it. Wijnaldum has just 22 goals with the Reds (coincidentally the same as his tally for the Dutch national team, albeit in fewer matches), but he certainly made those goals count.
His two second half goals against Barcelona in the Champions League semifinal have rightfully become ones of lore. We’ll be telling our grandkids about them, if the planet is still around by then. The second goal in particular, scored within 3 minutes of the first, still gives me chills to watch it. The cross, from another unlikely hero, Xherdan Shaqiri, was inch-perfect, and hit with enough pace to allow Gini to rise and head it with enough power to beat the keeper. The header was perfectly placed in the corner, bringing Liverpool back to level terms after being down and out 3-0 from the first leg. Bedlam ensued.
Barcelona didn’t know what had hit them. And they arguably never recovered.
If reports are true, and it seems like they are, Wijnaldum will be the first nailed-on starting XI player to leave us under Klopp.
It will be bittersweet to see Gini go. Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren (boy, we’ve missed Degsy, haven’t we?) were part of the journey under Klopp as well, but not nearly as central to the transformation.
He’s a top-class professional and severely underrated for everything he does in the center of the park. Let’s hope he can end the journey with Liverpool as he started it, by helping us qualify for the Champions League.
If we qualify, it’ll be the fifth season in a row we’ve done so. In the five season prior to Gini’s arrival, Liverpool had qualified just once.
His legacy is already massive, and he should go down as a Liverpool legend for years to come. All the best, Gini. You’ll Never Walk Alone.