For some players in the world of top-level football, it is quite easy for a quality player to be undervalued.
Few stars illustrate this more succinctly than Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, a dynamic Dutchman whose football game has more layers than an award-winning onion.
The past 18 months have been a kind of whirlwind for the 30-year-old, who has become both a European and Premier League champion as he prepared for the peak years of his career … but uncertainty is high.
Jurgen Klopp now needs Georgino Wijnaldum more than ever if Liverpool’s injury crisis bites
Jurgen Klopp has never made a secret his crush on Wijnaldum and the broad repertoire he brings to Liverpool’s red juggernaut, but the elephant in Anfield’s boardroom remains the player’s rapidly diminishing contract to this day.
At the moment, however, all such talk can quickly be put aside.
It is time for Liverpool and Klopp and Co are in a serious injury crisis.
With an exhausted line of defense and players falling like flies in midfield, Wijnaldum must answer the call for the reigning champion, starting with a crunch-table-topping showdown with Leicester City on Sunday.
Man in shape
A specter to many Liverpool fans is seeing Wijnaldum as a completely different player on the international stage.
A quick scroll through social media after a Holland game can often evoke disgruntled supporters who wonder why the 30-year-old looks like another player wearing his country’s famous orange shirt.
Wijnaldum was on fire for the Netherlands and now has 13 goals in his last 20 international matches
What this really is, however, is proof of the midfielder’s versatility. Wijnaldum shows an unwavering ability to adapt to a particular role, and the task assigned to him with Holland is very different from his weekly duties at Anfield.
This week, Wijnaldum stole the show by scoring twice within seven minutes in the Netherlands’ 3-1 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina, before winning an 84th minute against Poland in a 2-1 smash-and-grab days later.
He now has a hugely impressive 13 goals in his last 20 appearances for the Netherlands.
The forward position given to him on the national side gives Wijnaldum more freedom of attack and the Liverpool man provides the goods as a result.
It is noteworthy that Wijnaldum has now reached 20 goals for his country and is only four goals behind the record set by Dutch legend Marco van Basten.
The legs may be a little heavy after an international slog, but such a form can only bode well for Liverpool at a time when Klopp needs Wijnaldum on all cylinders.
After his three goals this week, Wijnaldum is remarkably only four times shy of Marco van Basten
The Anfield gear
And so it’s back to Merseyside for Wijnaldum and back to a role that sees him largely under the radar.
Fulfilling the job description of the lesser seen man can often be a thankless task in football, but everyone around Wijnaldum at Anfield appreciates how much of an important cog he is in the Liverpool system.
With his surprising strength and artistic footwork, Wijnaldum can play a unique role for Liverpool.
With lung-bursting fitness levels, Wijnaldum fulfills a task for the Reds, harassing opponents, breaking up the game, and quickly turning possession to create counter pressure.
The Dutchman plays a subdued role at Liverpool and is essential to Klopp’s playing style
It might be safe to say that without these boxes checked, Klopp’s team won’t work as intended. It is no coincidence that last season the German fielded Wijnaldum more than any other midfielder as Liverpool stormed to the title.
And now Wijnaldum has to fit into his familiar role again, this time with even higher expectations given the dwindling numbers around him.
Last man stands
Right now, several Liverpool players face a desperate race to be fit in time for Sunday’s showdown with the Foxes.
Wijnaldum may still be in a highly improvised midfield, with the result that the players who managed to prevent the treatment room from being dragged out of position.
Klopp sweats over the fitness of his Brazilian enforcer Fabinho, although the former Monaco man will most likely be put right back on the defensive to ease the back-line crisis should he get the green light to play.
Jordan Henderson will reportedly miss Liverpool’s match against Leicester on Sunday
All eyes are on Wijnaldum in midfield, especially now that captain Jordan Henderson is facing his own battle to be fit in time.
Henderson became the last in a long line of players to be injured during the international break.
The Liverpool skipper suffered a groin problem while on duty with England and has returned to Merseyside as a result.
Henderson’s potential absence on Sunday suggests that Wijnaldum is likely to be in midfield alongside Curtis Jones and James Milner – although the latter is now widely expected to be called up in a defensive position.
Wijnaldum will therefore be both Liverpool’s most experienced midfielder and talisman in the center of the park, wearing Leicester blue against the in-form pair of Youri Tielemans and Nampalys.
Thiago’s absence in the summer means that Liverpool are also under pressure to ask Wijnaldum to provide something of a creative outlet, while also providing a foil for the likes of Jones or Takumi Minamino to initiate attacks from the center.
Liverpool are still waiting for Thiago to return after his injury in the Merseyside derby
One last swan song?
All this has passed so far without mentioning that this could very likely be Wijnaldum’s final season at Anfield in the famous Liverpool shirt.
In just a few weeks, the Dutchman can start negotiations with European clubs about a free transfer in the summer.
Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman, who led Wijnaldum on the international stage with the Netherlands, has made no secret of his wanting to close a deal for his fellow countryman.
Wijnaldum’s contract is worn out and both club and player are in a stalemate when it comes to negotiations.
It’s no secret that Klopp would love to keep one of his most versatile lieutenants at the club, especially as Liverpool compete on multiple fronts season after season.
But the main point of contention is Anfield’s system, which dictates that long and lucrative contracts are not handed out to older members of the squad.
With his contract ending in the summer, this could likely be Wijnaldum’s swan song at Anfield
Wijnaldum is now at the peak of his game and is unlikely to turn 31 next year and is unlikely to play the role of Klopp that often in the coming years.
Many expected Wijnaldum to leave in the summer season, especially after the club secured Thiago’s capture of Bayern Munich.
But Wijnaldum stayed, picking up where he left off last season with a string of solid, consistent shows.
Whether this will be Wijnaldum’s last Liverpool season or not, his team is unlikely to have ever needed him more than they do now.
After a week in the record of one of the very best heroes in the Netherlands, it is time for Wijnaldum to don the cape for Liverpool and save his club at a crucial moment.