Newcastle United midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum is set to join Liverpool to be part of Jürgen Klopp's first full season at the club. The Dutch midfielder has been long regarded as a player of considerable potential since becoming the youngest player to play for Feyenoord nearly ten years ago at 16 years of age. Dirk Kuyt and Luis Suárez proved that the very qualities that made earned Dutch Footballer of the Year accolades would prove to be successful at Liverpool, but can Wijnaldum follow in their footsteps?
DOB: 11/11/90 (25) | Height: 5'9" (1.75 meters)
2015-16 Season: 40 appearances
11 goals, 5 assists
Strengths: Georginio Wijnaldum is an extremely dynamic player with impressive physical and technical gifts. Just as Emre Can brings a stature and physicality to Liverpool's midfield, the 25-year-old will provide box to box verticality that will be crucial in Jürgen Klopp's system. Whether it's at number ten, in a box to box role in a midfield three, or a deeper position as part of a double pivot, the former PSV Eindhoven midfielder's versatility enables him to succeed in a variety of roles for numerous reasons.
Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have been the Premier League benchmark for midfielders consistently hitting solid goalscoring numbers for their respective sides. Midfielders that possess a confidence in front of goal are extremely valuable. While they may not break forward at every opportunity for a chance to shoot closer to the opposition's goal, they tend to look threatening when shooting. A goal, a near miss, or a goalkeeper forced to make a save is usually the result of their attacking forays. While Wijnaldum has some way to go to match the consistency of the likes of Lampard and Gerrard, he finishes deceptively well in the air and excellently on the ground with his right foot. Expect some goals and emphatic finishing.
Breaking past opponents via dribbling or a surging off the ball run will be something to look out for. Like the signing of Sadio Mané, there is talent both with and without the ball to aid Liverpool's attacking movement and fluidity. Players will struggle to keep up with and take the ball off them. What Wijnaldum also excels in is shielding the ball in close proximity to his opponents. This was an area that has developed in his time in Holland as he sometimes lost the ball in physical tussles even though he was more technically gifted and skillful than his opponents. His physique is quite ideal to be successful in the modern game: solid enough to withstand physical battles but agile enough to change direction quite swiftly.
Wijnaldum's versatility is borne out of an understanding and intelligence in his game. How else could he adapt from a number ten at Feyenoord to a central midfielder for Philp Cocu at PSV? Louis van Gaal's demands of Wijnaldum during a successful run at the 2014 World Cup might share some similarities with what will be asked of him at Liverpool, if as some suspect, the Dutch international partners Can in midfield. This is a player with the necessary skills, finishing ability, and vim to thrive in attack. At a grand stage against high-level opponents at international level, Wijnaldum displayed discipline, zeal for defensive duties, a willingness to burst into space before quickly returning to his position in successive phases of play, and handle possession maturely.
Professional and attitude are often as important as ability on the pitch. While it is difficult and often impossible to peer into the mind of a player, Wijnaldum has been known to be a reliable and focused member of the team. Yes, the Dutchman clearly wanted to avoid playing in the Championship, but he didn't bleat about it every five minutes. See: Moussa Sissoko. A goal or assist every 200 minutes combined with an impressive durability underlines what a good player Liverpool are actually picking up.
Weaknesses: Many Newcastle fans were rightly unhappy with Wijnaldum's performances away from home—the midfielder scored all 11 of his Premier League goals at St James' Park last season. This was the captain of PSV—one of the Eredivisie's stars—who is capable of inspirational performances. As Newcastle struggled in vain against relegation from the Premier League, Wijnaldum had some poor games when he was needed. That he ended as the club's top scorer from midfield in his first season in England suggest that he was the least of Newcastle's problems in a disastrous campaign.
While a first season England was largely successful for Wijnaldum in terms of adapting to a new league and proving that his talents in the Eredivisie could translate to one of Europe's premier leagues, consistency was a bit of a problem. This is understandable in a debut campaign at a struggling club, but Rafael Benítez did drop Wijnaldum -- a key player Rafa presumably needed -- to the bench a few times in the heat of a relegation battle.
The pressure playing for Liverpool will be greater than Wijnadlum has ever experienced at club level, where wilting in terms of performances and output can draw groans from an impatient crowd. Newcastle are a big club, but Liverpool is an altogether more imposing and sprawling beast. Although Liverpool won't be slumming it in the bottom half of the table or battling relegation, a similar tendency to only perform at home would undermine his role as a regular starter. James Milner, Jordan Henderson, and Marko Grujić will ensure that there will be greater competition in comparison to what Newcastle could offer.
Scoring 11 goals from midfield in a relegated team, however, isn't something that can be easily dismissed. Like Danny Ings, Wijnaldum will be pleased to be playing with much better players without being the club's primary source of inspiration. Although Liverpool won't be playing in Europe this coming season, there will be difficult moments and periods that the players must overcome in order to shape a successful season. Can Wijnaldum be counted on during Liverpool's travels and when the season is coming to a close? While these fears are somewhat unfair, they've been raised and cannot be ignored.
There have been doubts raised about the defensive side of Wijnaldum's game and the numbers he recorded in stats, interceptions, and tackles. His role at Newcastle, however, was primarily an attacking one. It is interesting to note that they weren't widely dissimilar to his output in his final season at PSV, but there is an appetite in the way he approaches the game. It's not necessarily furious, but when Wijnaldum is on song, he can seem to be greatly involved and cover a lot of the pitch. So expect his defensive stats in this area to undergo a boost under Klopp with the 49-year-old's particular tactical demands.
Summation: Simply put, he's a modern and well-rounded midfielder with great stamina. He can see a pass, help the team push forward, and function in a variety of roles. It was a surprise that Newcastle were able to sign him last summer as both he and Memphis Depay were thought to be headed to a European giant after PSV.
Georginio Wijnaldum might not be what was expected in strengthening Liverpool's midfield but is quite different to the existing midfielders at the club. If he can build on last season's productivity and form in the Premier League, he will add a new dimension to Merseyside's finest. This is a player in his prime with the tools and the manager to thrive at Anfield.