Gini Wijnaldum's struggles at PSG have already seen him linked with a swift return to the Premier League, underlining the perils of quitting Anfield
This is not how Gini Wijnaldum pictured it in his head.
Five months into his Paris Saint-Germain career, the Netherlands international finds himself with a fight on his hands.
For his place, for acceptance and recognition and, perhaps, for his future too.
If recent reports are to be believed, then PSG may already be willing to let the 31-year-old leave.
Wijnaldum, apparently, has not settled in the French capital, has not been particularly welcomed by his team-mates and would be open to a move, in particular a return to the Premier League.
What a strange state of affairs. This had looked like the ideal move for all parties when it was confirmed back in June, but now Wijnaldum finds himself being linked with a loan switch to Arsenal or West Ham or Newcastle.
How quickly the world turns, eh? The perils of leaving Liverpool, you might say.
Like Philippe Coutinho before him, Wijnaldum has discovered that the grass isn’t always greener. Life after Anfield, it seems, can be tough, even for the best and the most dedicated.
Wijnaldum left the Reds a hero, a Champions League winner and a Premier League champion. He was the ultimate team player, versatile and durable, prepared to play in attack and defence as well as midfield.
He scored big goals and played in big games. In five years on Merseyside, in fact, he played in more games than anybody else. There were 237 of them in total, a staggering figure for a modern-day midfielder.
Life has been different in Paris, where Wijnaldum has so far started only 11 times and made 10 substitute appearances.
“Very difficult,” he admitted back in October, revealing that “the situation is not what I wanted.”
PSG may be romping away with Ligue 1, and have a Champions League last-16 tie against Real Madrid to look forward to in the New Year, but life is far from perfect at Parc des Princes.
Mauricio Pochettino is under pressure – himself linked strongly with a return to England – and his team, for all its dazzling individual quality, looks imbalanced and lacks cohesion.
They win games because of their talent, but the feeling is that they will come unstuck against better opponents, particularly in the knockout stages of the Champions League. That’s the true cost of having a forward line of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi, you might say.
Wijnaldum, you would have thought, would have helped in that regard, given his ability to sacrifice himself for the good of the team.
But while there have been flashes of late – two goals against RB Leipzig, for example, and a last-minute equaliser at Lens – the general consensus is that his performances have been below the standard expected.
He has been criticised, in particular, for playing too safe with his passing, and for not taking enough responsibility in building the game up.
Observers also say he has looked sluggish, both on and off the ball, and there have been moments where his team-mates – Messi and Mbappe, in particular – have openly expressed frustration.
Rather unfairly, it has been suggested that the dressing room, generally, is yet to accept him.
Wijnaldum was a big character at Liverpool, one of the club’s four captains under Klopp before his departure, but he has found PSG a little more cliquey and a little less welcoming. And certainly, he is yet to feel the love from the supporters.
Maybe there is a lesson there, given the interview Wijnaldum gave following his Anfield exit.
In it, he complained that he didn’t always feel “loved and appreciated” by Liverpool fans, particularly those venting their spleen on social media.
“If we lost, I was the one who got the blame,” he claimed, though the reception he got from 10,000 Reds fans after his final game for the club, against Crystal Palace in May, suggests his critics were in the minority. Certainly, Klopp and his team-mates knew his value. There were plenty of tears on his last day.
He wanted to stay at Liverpool, but felt the club didn’t value him as much as they ought to have.
Negotiations over a new deal broke down and were not resumed, and he saw out his contract in difficult circumstances, captaining an injury-hit side in behind-closed-doors games as the 2019-20 champions struggled to sneak a top-four finish in the following campaign.
PSG looked, on paper at least, an ideal move. Certainly better than Barcelona, where he was originally expected to end up.
Wijnaldum, selfless and consistent, looked the ideal player to help balance Pochettino’s side, providing nous and reliability, as well as top-level experience.
He still can, of course. PSG will win Ligue 1 and are capable of winning the Champions League too, for sure. Wijnaldum may still have a role to play, even if it won’t be as integral as the one he had on Merseyside.
His experience, and that of Coutinho, should serve as a warning, however, to those considering a future beyond Liverpool.
Do so at your own risk. After Anfield, these days the only way is down.
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