For most of the 2020-21 campaign, Liverpool fans had resigned themselves to the fact that Georginio Wijnaldum would leave the club on the expiry of his contract at the end of the season. It was a fond farewell to a man who has been present for all of the club’s success over the last five years or so, and there were a few shakes of heads as fans lamented the decision of the Liverpool hierarchy not to offer Wijnaldum the long-term contract he desired.
Those bitter feelings will be even more pronounced in the wake of Wijnaldum’s performance for the Netherlands in their opening Euro 2020 match against Ukraine. Acting as captain for the tournament in place of the injured Virgil van Dijk, Wijnaldum led by example from the off in Amsterdam, dictating play and picking out teammates. He could have had a goal and an assist by half-time, such was the impact he was having on the match.
In the second half, that goal arrived. As Ukraine goalkeeper Heorhiy Bushchan parried a low cross out to the edge of the penalty area, Wijnaldum was on hand to meet the clearance and guide a beautiful, curling, left-footed strike beyond the goalkeeper’s despairing dive and into the roof of the net. It sparked jubilant scenes amongst the home support in the Johan Cruff Arena, and was no doubt a relief for Netherlands coach Frank de Boer, who had seen his side squander a number of good openings already in the match.
In what turned out to be a thrilling encounter, the Netherlands won 3-2, courtesy of a late Denzel Dumfries header, and Wijnaldum was the hosts’ driving force throughout the game. He tends to play a more advanced, dynamic role for his country than he did for Liverpool, and many Reds fans will have been surprised to see such a bombastic display from a man whose role at Anfield usually involves recycling possession and feeding the front three.
But Wijnaldum seemed to be involved in every good thing the Netherlands did, and it’s clear that he was relishing the honour of leading his country at a major tournament finals.
With the dust now settled on that match, there is a sense that Wijnaldum’s demonstration of his talents showed Liverpool what they will miss next season. It was rare that he enjoyed such attacking license under Jurgen Klopp as he has done for the Dutch national team, but one wonders if Liverpool’s manager was watching on and rueing his unwillingness to deploy Wijnaldum in that kind of position.
The Dutch sit just behind the main favourites in the UEFA Euro 2021 betting, but if Wijnaldum can keep playing like that, then they’ll be a good match for anyone on their day. Defensive doubts remain, but the former Liverpool man was irresistible for so much of the match against Ukraine, and if he continues in that vein throughout the rest of the tournament, then there will be plenty of people questioning the Anfield club’s decision to let him go.