Gini Wijnaldum is now the world’s best at the box-to-box role thanks to Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool will struggle to replace him.
Wijnaldum arrived at Anfield for £25m in 2016 as a goalscoring midfielder. He’d bagged 11 Premier League goals in his sole season with Newcastle United. He’d scored 56 goals over four seasons for PSV Eindhoven and another 14 for Feyenoord the year before that.
Wijnaldum hadn’t always been that way, though. He’d played a more defensive midfield role at times in his career, too, as well as in the more forward positions.
No one could argue that the Dutchman wasn’t a well-rounded player, then.
But Wijnaldum exists in an era where the box-to-box role has faded away. Those years of midfield twos, with at least one player covering the pitch have been gone for a while.
Instead, midfielders have set roles. This is the era of the ‘six’, ‘eight’ and ‘ten’ where players either defend, pass or attack and rarely all three.
It makes sense in the current game where squads are more important than a first-team. You want to have different weapons at your disposal for varying opponents, rather than a regular XI that you ask to adapt to whatever is in front of them.
Liverpool buck that trend, though, and do have a consistent XI that’s very versatile game-to-game. It can be the same XI but play very differently.
And a huge part of that is Wijnaldum and how Klopp has moulded him into the box-to-box role. The 29-year-old can do everything to a high standard and no matter what Liverpool need, he can adapt.
You think back to the Barcelona game where he became a goal-scoring midfielder. Or against Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend where he focused on breaking up play – and did it phenomenally.
He struggled in his first few seasons to adapt to different games – particularly away from home – and would frequently go missing. Nowadays, however, he can change from game to game and thrive. That’s down to the coaching and persistence of Klopp.
Yaya Toure at Manchester City was probably the last Premier League player to do it at the top level. Now it’s Wijnaldum’s era – and he’s simply the best at the world at it.