Cult heroes have graced the Anfield turf more than most clubs in years gone by. Players who were undoubtedly not the centre-stage stars of the team but have become crowd favourites, unsung heroes. Some prime examples are Jerzy Dudek, Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Djimi Traore and Luis Garcia, who are mocked and jeered by opposition fans yet loved by the supporters who back them.
Dirk Kuyt wasn’t the most laughable of these by a long way. His goal record, work-rate, versatility and commitment to the Liverpool cause was second to none in a team which contained a notorious amount of players with far greater technical ability such as Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres. However, it is the Dutchman who is the source of inspiration for Liverpool’s new signing, compatriot Georginio Wijnaldum, who is looking to follow in the footsteps of his countryman and become an Anfield favourite amongst die-hard Kopites.
Kuyt arrived from Sportclub Feyenoord in 2006, and by the time he left Merseyside for Fenerbahce in 2012 he was an Anfield hero, having helped Liverpool to the Champions League Final in his first season at the club, and taking away a medal for his six years of service in his final season at the club after a penalty shootout victory over Cardiff City in the 2011/12 League Cup final at Wembley, following a 2-2 draw in which Kuyt himself scored.
He made 208 Premier League appearances for the Reds, scoring 51 times, and came up with several crucial goals for Liverpool in the Champions League. Some of his best moments in a Liverpool shirt include a brace against Everton in the Merseyside Derby of 2007/08, and a hat-trick against bitter rivals Manchester United in 2011. There are plenty of heights to live up to, but providing he hits the ground running at Anfield, Wijnaldum is certainly capable of reaching them.
The former Newcastle man is not only a midfielder capable of being a workaholic and defending well, but he is also a great box-to-box, passing player, who can provide a source of goals from midfield. A good work-rate and appearances on the score-sheet every so often go a long way for the paying supporter, as well as the passion these players display.
As a midfield lynch-pin, passion must be evident in Wijnaldum’s performances. As a midfielder, the mercurial Steven Gerrard – a passing, goal-scoring midfielder and attacking engine, will be his point of comparison. If the Dutchman is to live up to that, passion and dedication to the cause will need to be at the forefront of his displays if he is to be adored by the Anfield crowd.
In a motivator of a manager like Jurgen Klopp, Wijnaldum certainly has the environment to become a hero, given his coach was one during his playing days at Mainz, and as a manager at Borussia Dortmund. The Bundesliga club was awash with its own heroes loved by the fans. Not always the better players like Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski, but grafters like Neven Subotic, Kevin Grosskreutz and Jakob Blaszczykowski. This trend will surely continue at Liverpool with its own unique crop, under Klopp who by now is also used to the tag throughout his likeable teams down the years of his managerial career.
What Wijnaldum must remember is that for every Jamie Carragher there is also a Mario Balotelli. A strong personality does not always make a player a cult hero. Balotelli was adored at Manchester City not only because of his zany off-field antics but because of the fact that he scored crucial goals when it mattered for the Citizens.
At Liverpool that same coolness, composure and eye for goal that he was so good at even in the midst of his fiery behaviour just hasn’t been apparent.
Wijnaldum, by nature, is a calmer player, who rarely becomes embroiled in controversy, and simply gets his head down and works for his club can receive the appreciation of the fans just as much. He doesn’t need to breathe red like predecessors Gerrard and Carragher, but he simply needs to give his all for the club, and if he is in the right place at crucial times as he has been for Newcastle, then he will quickly become appreciated on the red half of Merseyside.
The qualities he possesses render him capable of that. His service will be vital to the attacking players at Jurgen Klopp’s disposal and Liverpool thrive from goals coming from midfield, from the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana, and have done so from goals by the likes of Alonso, Gerrard and Kuyt in the past.
Wijnaldum’s versatility is also reminiscent of Kuyt. He arrived from Feyenoord and played as a forward in his first season under Rafael Benitez before being pushed out to the right-wing, where he made the position his own at Anfield with minimal fuss and was unlucky not to walk away with a Premier League winner’s medal in 2009 after being pipped to the title by Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
Wijnaldum will be expected to show similar durability wherever he is deployed in midfield, and if he does so and is able to provide service and goal, it can only do him good in getting the crowd on his side.
Supporters appreciate players who play for the name of the club on the front of the shirt. It enables them to remember the name on the back. Wijnaldum as a name may be a bit of a mouthful, but if he can bring his pedigree to the table at Anfield, expect his name to be belted from the Kop over the coming season and beyond.
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