Gini Wijnaldum – or “Jeannie One Album” as Google misinterpreted my pronunciation of his name seconds ago – now looks to be on his way out of Liverpool Football Club at the end of the season.
As every short, sharp, cold January day rises and then falls, the likelihood of the Dutchman reaching an agreement with The Reds on a new deal – after months of a public stalemate – looks increasingly unlikely.
With the year now reading 2021, and potential suitors now being ‘officially’ able to talk to him and offer deals (like they didn’t before…), a late kiss-and-make-up contract is all we can hope for one of Jürgen Klopp’s ‘Mr Dependables’.
Which begs the question: If…(likely, when) he leaves Liverpool, how will he be remembered? And how should he be remembered?
Let’s wind back to the very start.
It’s hard to believe it now – given everything that has happened at Liverpool since – but his £25million move to Anfield back in the summer of 2016 was questioned by many; particularly Newcastle United fans.
The barbs from The Barcodes included question marks around his spirit, his appetite for a fight and more. A common view was that he wasn’t a man you’d want in the trenches with you – and many felt he hadn’t battled hard enough to prevent Newcastle from being relegated that year, despite his 11 goals from midfield.
According to one fan, he was like the tin man in Wizard of Oz – pretty impressive on the surface, but not much in the way of heart; especially in matches away from home (remember that goal record that we didn’t hear the last of for so long…).
Gini was also dubbed a mercenary by some Geordies for having the temerity to leave a relegated club for one with eyes on the prizes and led by Klopp.
Such is the life of a footballer who dares to swap teams.
Nearly five years on, Wijnaldum finds himself with decisions to make about his career once more. But this time, whether he stays or goes, he surely won’t be in anyone’s bad books at Liverpool.
While he won’t be asking for any references from the St James’ Park regulars, Wijnaldum can be proud of his Anfield career so far.
Firmly in the 200 appearances-plus club at Liverpool having just overtaken Xabi Alonso for games played for The Reds, he has longed since proved those wrong in the North East who said he would struggle for game time at Anfield.
Instead, he will shortly be among the top 100 appearance-makers in the history of the club. Liverpool have had their money’s worth – and then some.
Given the energy-sapping brand of football that Klopp has instilled at the club, Wijnaldum’s appearance record is remarkable.
In the four full 38-game seasons he has been at Liverpool, he has played in 36, 33, 35 and 37 Premier League matches respectively.
Throw in the small matter of a medal collection that glints away at Wijnaldum Towers reading Champions League 2019, European Super Cup 2019, FIFA Club World Cup 2019 and, biggest of all, Premier League 2019/20, and this is a man that should be remembered among our best; a man who helped to break that curse, end that wait, and put the smile of all smiles on our faces.
But what next? The Barcelona links linger and lurk, with reports from Spain sounding ever more confident about the man with 62 caps for his country being bound for Catalonia.
There is still time for a dramatic about-turn. And some might say Klopp was banging the PR drum for the No.5 when he revealed: "Before the Tottenham game, Gini was in the dressing room shouting: 'Don't let us waste the first half again!'"
Remember, too, that the Liverpool squad voted him as fourth-choice captain behind Virgil van Dijk, vice-captain James Milner and skipper Jordan Henderson. He is liked and loved. Respected. Key to the culture that Klopp has built. You’d be hard pressed to find a bad word the manager has said about him. Ever. And why would he?
Wijnaldum has long played a role that doesn’t guarantee him headlines. Giving it, keeping it, holding space, making the team tick. Yet for Holland...well, you’ve seen him for Holland. For Liverpool, he’s stepped into the defence, he’s played the Bobby Firmino role. And the one time he was seemingly pissed off with his manager, he emerged from the bench to blow away Barca in one of the greatest games Anfield has ever witnessed.
He’s been the consummate professional. And it says it all that Klopp will likely play him until the very end, even if he is headed for pastures new come the summer. No one here would doubt that he would stop putting it in, whatever some Newcastle fans say.
And there lies the frustration – for him, for us, maybe even for the manager. Wijnaldum seems settled in Liverpool; not just in terms of his football, but from the fact he is often seen in and around the city waterfront and business district. This isn’t a man picking up a cheque and heading for the hills – he seems to like it here.
We are then, down to the dirty words. Money. And age.
Wijnaldum turned 30 in November, and while he can point to 35-year-old Milner as an example of a player that can continue to contribute long into the fourth decade of life, the story goes that his salary demands, allied to the length of contract requested, are far from what Liverpool had in mind.
It will be a shame to see him go. But perhaps, this time, there is no bad guy here.
Wijnaldum can now command a big signing-on fee if he moves on. He would leave having won the biggest trophies there are to win while wearing the Liverpool red.
If people didn’t think much about family, security and the future pre-pandemic, it’s likely focused minds since.
And with that in mind who can really begrudge Wijnaldum one last pay-day and one more big challenge? It’s likely his last long-term contract after all – and if Barca’s offer tops Liverpool, which it probably does, does he really deserve stick for putting himself and his family first?
Plenty have left Liverpool with a cloud hanging over them – Steve McManaman, Michael Owen, Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez, Emre Can, Phil Coutinho and more.
Wijnaldum though, if he decides to depart, should be initiated into that special select club of those who are allowed to depart for another club with our well wishes ringing in their ears. Think Robbie Fowler. Think Steven Gerrard.
He may not be Scouse like that deified double act, but Wijnaldum is one of ours, come what may.
Rather than just one album, as Google suggested, Gini has a string of greatest hits in red. We’ll always play them and smile. And maybe, just maybe, he hasn’t finished yet.