Georginio Wijnaldum could not be happier to be Liverpool’s ‘link’ man.
When the Reds recruited the Netherlands international last summer, Jürgen Klopp highlighted the midfielder’s versatility, the armoury of natural abilities that allow him to switch into different positions on the pitch and continue to influence the game.
Wijnaldum’s willingness meant he was often used as a winger at previous clubs, though he never deviated from his own desire to function in the centre.
“If you’re a winger, you’re busy with yourself,” the No.5 told Goal.com. “You have to make an action: dribble, or cross, or cut in.
“When you’re in midfield, you are the link in the team between the defence and the attack – the connection point for everything.
“In my career I’ve really had to fight to come into the middle again.
“A lot of managers told me ‘you are way more comfortable as a winger than as a midfielder’ but I always kept my trust and confidence in what I knew about my qualities. Because I was fast, technical and could dribble well, it was always the easy thing to label me just a winger and have me stick to that.”
That has not happened at Liverpool.
Wijnaldum was placed into Klopp’s three-man midfield from the start of the season and set about laying his stamp on the side in a quiet, unassuming manner that is not always obvious.
As the campaign has progressed, his impact has grown and it was the Dutchman who put the seal on the crucial victory over Arsenal at the beginning of the month before he grabbed an equaliser that turned the tide against a determined Burnley last weekend.
“I think I’ve surprised many people because I’m showing I can still make the runs and get goals, but I’m regaining balls, keeping the rhythm in the passing, covering for those around me and getting assists – they’re seeing the complete version of me,” he explained.
“How I’m playing is exactly what was discussed with the manager in the summer and a big part of it is just to be in tune with what’s happening in the team.
“I’m playing on the left of midfield and we have [James] Milner at left-back, who also has to get forward a lot. So I have to notice and understand his movements and also that of the players alongside me and just to the front and back. I have to have a clear idea of what is going on around me and make the best decision for the team.
“I’ve got the permission to break forward from the manager, but as much as I like to, sometimes it’s not always possible given the situations in the game.
“I have to say, I’ve grown better and better as the season has gone on because with time, you learn exactly the kind of space your teammates will be in, the passes they like, the runs they will make.
“In the beginning I knew most of the players from facing them as the opposition, but I didn’t know how their qualities and mine needed to mix. That comes from training and playing together so the relationship on the pitch grows and I believe we’re just going to get better at it.
“He wants me to get into the box more, because he knows I’ve got the quality to get goals and affect the attacking play, so hopefully I get more chances in games to do that.”
Wijnaldum’s strike against Arsenal added to his tally of goals in meetings with the rest of the Premier League top six this season.
The 26-year-old was the right man in the right place to down Manchester City on New Year’s Eve and nodded in a similar leveller when leaders Chelsea came to Anfield in January.
And with the Reds set to cross paths with City again on Sunday – the latest episode of the thrilling race for a Champions League spot – he believes his team can rise to the occasion once more.
“It’s easier in the bigger games when both teams are dedicated to going for it, taking the initiative and trying to win,” Wijnaldum added.
“That allows you more space to play and because we’ve been so spot-on collectively in these games, it makes it easier to then shine as an individual.
“I’ve got goals and assists against our biggest competitors this season, but it’s as a result of the team. We’ve got many big-game players and I think we’re a side that can bring our very best in these types of challenges.
“It makes you happy, but it also then makes you sad when you lose a lot of points against the other teams. I believe that if we can do so well against our rivals, then we definitely can do it in the other matches as we showed at the start of the season.”