If Georginio Wijnaldum is to leave Liverpool this summer, it will signal the beginning of the end of an era.
He will be the first of the core group of players, of similar ages and at similar stages of their careers, to walk away from Anfield by choice. He is part of the leadership group that took Liverpool from obscurity to prominence under Jürgen Klopp, and tears will be shed in both camps if he decides his future lies away from Merseyside.
It’s a decision he will make this week, according to reports, and the situation has fans up and down the country screaming from their locked-down rooftops: ‘give him whatever he wants, just keep him at the club!’
In many ways the change of perception towards the ever-present midfielder is vindication for the influence he has always quietly held. In the summer, the fanbase was split, with many feeling he should be sold to make room for the incoming Thiago. But he has missed just two games since, becoming more important than ever in the midst of a bewildering injury crisis.
Klopp inevitably wants him to stay, but the manager knows – as does everyone close to the situation -that handing over a blank cheque to keep him tied down is simply not an option.
Liverpool have regained their status as one of English football’s dominant forces by being proactive, not reactive. They make their decisions by studying the past and predicting the future, and refuse to let their hand be forced – the consequence of that being that they suffer the occasional blow, like with Timo Werner in the summer.
The upside of their long-term thinking, however, is that they never end up with a Mesut Ozil. Back in 2018, Arsenal found themselves in a Wijnaldum situation with their German playmaker, end eventually yielded to his demands. He signed a deal on £350,000-per-week until 2021, and has regressed to such a point that he has not made a competitive appearance since the pandemic kicked in.
That’s not to say Wijnaldum would immediately go backwards like Ozil has, but that is the risk it carries, and the risk Liverpool are geared towards cautiously avoiding. They can’t make exceptions, because the exception then becomes the rule, and that can rapidly spiral out of control.
Just look at Manchester United, who are still unravelling the web cast by Alexis Sanchez’s absurd salary.
All of this is not to say that Wijnaldum should just lie down and accept what is on the table from Liverpool. It’s not one or the other. His contributions mean that Liverpool should offer him whatever they can, but if he can do better than that elsewhere, or if he just fancies a change of scenery, then he cannot be begrudged leaving.
Anyone pulling the ‘loyalty’ card just needs to look at the five years of unrelenting, uncompromising effort he has put in, and what it has yielded for the club. Loyalty works both ways: if he wants to leave, then the least Liverpool owe him is a handshake and a pat on the back.
Whatever the external noise will suggest in the coming weeks, there is nothing but mutual respect between Liverpool and Gini Wijnaldum. He has conducted himself like a model professional throughout his time at Anfield, refusing to let off-field uncertainty bleed into his performances and giving his all for the cause no matter what.
Whenever he decides to leave, he will do so with a hug from his manager and a round of applause from his teammates.
If his play tells you anything about him, it’s that he is as selfless an individual as you will come across. He has no ego, and is intelligent enough to wrap his head around the off-field operation. He will understand why Liverpool can’t give him what he and his agent are pushing for, and while he may leave with a heavy heart and a tinge of regret, he will know that Liverpool are missing him as much as he misses Liverpool.
It’s important to realise that it is not always a partisan issue. There doesn’t have to be a bad guy. In this case, it’s not Liverpool vs Wijnaldum – it’s Liverpool and Wijnaldum, each doing what is best for themselves.
We don’t always have to find someone to blame. Sometimes, things just are, and while it may be difficult to watch one of the best midfielders on the planet walk away for free, it’s just how things need to be to keep the ship floating during an unpredictable new era.