THE group stages of Euro 2020 confirmed that Liverpool made a mistake when they allowed Georginio Wijnaldum to leave on a free transfer this summer.
Holland take on the Czech Republic in Budapest this afternoon and they will be looking to their talisman to lead them into the quarter-finals, with Wijnaldum taking on that role in the absence of Virgil van Dijk.
Gini has been outstanding for Holland so far, scoring three goals and looking a real threat in a more attacking midfield position than he played for a lot of his time at Liverpool.
It might be that he feels he has a point to prove to Liverpool and his new club Paris Saint-Germain, amid reports that he will be earning around £315,000-a-week in a move that also saw him collect a multi-million-pound signing-on fee.
Yet, it was clear from the way he left Liverpool with an emotional send-off on the final day of the season that he was not happy to say his farewells to a club where he had achieved so much over the past five years.
Wijnaldum’s finest moment was his two-goal performance in the remarkable 4-0 Champions League semi-final win against Barcelona in 2019, when Jurgen Klopp’s side came back from the dead to make it through to the final and eventually win the competition.
He was also crucial to the Premier League title win last year and, while Van Dijk, Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and captain Jordan Henderson often stole the limelight away from Wijnaldum, everyone at Liverpool appreciated just how important he was to their successes.
The trouble is that once a player turns 30, Liverpool’s owners have shown themselves to be reluctant to hand out long-term contracts and, clearly, that’s what Wijnaldum had been looking for.
There was an offer on the table for him to stay, but it would have been nowhere near as lucrative as the deal he has just signed with PSG and, maybe, the money was too good to turn down in the end.
It probably got to the point where Wijnaldum and his advisers thought Liverpool are not pushing hard enough to give us a new deal, so we will sit it out, let the contract run down and take the lottery money that will come our way from a free transfer.
Barcelona were also interested in signing him and that would have bumped up his value when there was no transfer fee to pay, and that’s why these free transfers have become so lucrative.
So, even if Wijnaldum had been happy to continue working under Klopp, it’s hard to turn down a £315k-a-week, three-year deal at the back end of your career.
We will probably see a similar situation with Paul Pogba at Manchester United this summer, as he has one year left on his contract and will be able to name his price if he is on a free transfer 12 months from now.
PSG and Juventus will be offering Pogba and his agent Mino Raiola untold millions if they are able to finalise a move without a transfer fee and, as we know, those two are driven by money, first, and football, second.
I know it’s tough for you on your ‘normal wages’ reading this and trying to get your head around why a guy is not happy to get £200k-a-week and wants more, but this is what football has become.
My motivation to play for Liverpool was born out of a deep-rooted passion for the club, but foreign players who are not emotionally invested in the team they play for will have a different view.
Someone like Pogba will go where the money leads him, and if he is part of a successful team when he gets there, that’s a bonus.
What Wijnaldum’s decision to leave Liverpool has done is left a hole in their midfield and also in their dressing room, as he was a very popular member of the squad.
There have been suggestions that Liverpool won’t look to replace Wijnaldum, as they feel they have enough midfielders, but that would be a mistake.
We had a similar debate last summer when they decided not to sign an extra centre-back. That decision proved to be fatal as an injury crisis ruined their season.
So, I strongly believe Liverpool must sign a player to replace Wijnaldum. If they do make that move, the irony is they may end up paying out more money to get his replacement than they would have done by giving him a new deal.
Liverpool’s owners would prefer to sign a 21-year-old who may have a sell-on value in a few years’ time, but they could have given Wijnaldum the three-year contract he wanted and, maybe, looked to sell him next summer if money was the issue.
Instead, the player has left without any fee coming in. That doesn’t make any business sense for the club.
I would be a little concerned by the lack of transfer rumblings around Liverpool, and even though the arrival of Ibrahima Konate bolsters the defensive line, they need more to close the gap on Manchester City in the Premier League.
Liverpool ended the season on a high and sneaked into the top four in the final week of the campaign, but that team needed some fresh impetus in the attacking third, and I believe they need something more either in midfield or up front.
That player will not come cheap and I wonder whether the club’s owners have the financial muscle or the intention of signing a player of that quality in a summer when their rivals are preparing to spend big.
Jadon Sancho is on his way to Manchester United, Manchester City have made their opening bid for Harry Kane and Chelsea are flirting with a push to sign Erling Haaland.
Liverpool cannot be left behind in the transfer stakes this summer, because they need to hit the ground running when the players who are not taking part in Euro 2020 return for pre-season training in just two weeks’ time.