Is there a current Liverpool player more under-appreciated by the wider world than Gini Wijnaldum?
It’s a question worth asking given the latest comments from Andy Gray while extolling the virtues of Aston Villa talisman Jack Grealish.
“If I was a coach of any of the top six, and I include Liverpool in this, he would make the team better,” said the former Villa and Everton striker.
“He is, in my opinion, better than any of Liverpool’s midfield players. I think he is better than Keita. I think he’s better than Wijnaldum.”
Mention of Naby Keita, given the litany of injury problems with which the Guinean has had to contend since moving to Anfield, is understandable.
The timing was also curious, the Dutchman having posted a man-of-the-match performance to help Liverpool maintain their vice-like grip on the Premier League summit with a 1-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
Yet Gray’s proclamation is merely the latest example of how Wijnaldum continues to operate, by and large, under the radar and out of the spotlight.
The uninitiated perhaps just look at the numbers, the player having scored eight goals and contributed one assist in the last 18 months.
The role of the 29-year-old, though, goes beyond the obvious crowd-pleasing statistics.
Wijnaldum provides the nuts and bolts in the engine room, capable of fulfilling a number of roles, often all inside a single 90 minutes.
His energy, physical strength and passing range, not to mention game intelligence, made him in retrospect the ideal Jurgen Klopp acquisition back in the summer of 2016 when many fans were wondering where exactly the new boy would fit in.
The answer: just about everywhere, from defensive midfield to centre-back and false number nine.
Such versatility and remarkable durability are reasons why Wijnaldum has started all bar one Premier League game for Liverpool this season, and only missed the win at Bournemouth due to a minor injury complaint.
In fact, during the Reds’ ongoing 38-game unbeaten league run, the Dutchman has failed to start just four matches – two more through injury early last year, and a late substitute in the 2-0 home win over Chelsea last April.
And while Wijnaldum was benched for half of the Champions League group games this season, he played most of the home draw against Napoli as an early replacement for the stricken Fabinho.
Indeed, no Liverpool midfielder has featured for more minutes this season.
Being such a regular meant there was small wonder the player later revealed his “anger” at being dropped for last season’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Barcelona, which subsequently fuelled an outstanding two-goal display as a half-time substitute that helped propel Liverpool to the final.
Wijnaldum was introduced into an attacking midfield role that evening, a job he does consistently for Holland, contributing eight goals and three assists in nine outings for his country during 2019.
Liverpool’s plethora of attacking options mean his offensive traits aren’t often required. But Wijnaldum can clearly prosper when placed a little further upfield.
Fabinho’s imminent return to fitness and a contract that has entered its final 18 months will add a layer of intrigue to Wijnaldum’s second half of the campaign.
The player, though, knows he gets the credit where it matters – from Klopp, his team-mates and the Liverpool supporters.