Louis van Gaal has held up James Milner as a shining example of a team player in world football.
“Neymar and Messi I like them as individual players, not as team players,” the legendary coach told El Pais. “I believe that in collective games there is nothing more important than the team player.”
Van Gaal was then prompted to pick out the best example of a team player last season.
“One of the best is James Milner,” he replied. “In the final of the Champions League, he played as a defender and as a midfielder. It’s great that he can offer that at 33.”
The former Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester United boss went on to mention how ‘everyone plays for the team’ at Liverpool. The forwards, naturally, got a mention in that.
But Van Gaal’s comments also highlight one of the greatest traits of Jurgen Klopp’s squad – the versatility.
Van Gaal is right to single out Milner as he might just be the best example of a player who can play virtually anywhere. Nearly everyone in the squad is capable, however.
Sadio Mane has played across the front line, as has Mohamed Salah. Roberto Firmino, usually a striker, played a good part of the season as an attacking midfielder.
Gini Wijnaldum has played the holding role, as a box-to-box player, as a ‘false 9’, and even on the wing late on. Jordan Henderson started as an anchor in midfield but then played right-back and centre-back before finishing the season as a box-to-box player.
Fabinho has done similar to that and you can say the same for many more players.
It allows Klopp to stick with a relatively small squad by modern standards. He only really has two systems that he swaps between – 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 – and versatility means that, even through injuries, he can always make them work.
It’s become a defining trait and one that any new signings this summer will very likely possess.