Jurgen Klopp will not only face a big decision in how to replace Gini Wijnaldum on the pitch if he leaves Liverpool, but also how he will cover the Dutchman’s role off it too.
With less than a month left of the current campaign, focus is shifting towards the transfer market and an expected summer of change for Liverpool.
One of the stories dominating the Reds’ business is the dwindling contract of Wijnaldum, who is now into the final two months of a deal that will expire on July 1.
Wijnaldum has been free to discuss a pre-contract agreement with clubs outside of England from the start of the year, and he will soon be permitted talks with Premier League sides over a possible free transfer too.
There remains the option of extending his stay on Merseyside, but his demands appear to be at odds with those that Liverpool are willing to offer.
A move to Barcelona has been touted, though the Spanish club’s precarious finances have ensured any speculation comes with a caveat, with Inter Milan, PSG and Chelsea among the other sides linked with the No. 5.
This season, only Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson have clocked more minutes for Liverpool than Wijnaldum, who is on course to play the most football in a single campaign of his five years with the Reds.
Klopp has used just six players more often than the 30-year-old in his entire managerial career, with only one of those, Roberto Firmino, part of his current squad.
While his contribution has proved divisive among supporters, it is clear that Klopp trusts Wijnaldum implicitly, and that is also true off the field – as he is currently appointed Liverpool’s fourth captain.
Jordan Henderson is captain and James Milner vice-captain, but when they are not available Virgil van Dijk wears the armband, and if he is also out, Wijnaldum takes charge.
“It was not my decision. I decided Hendo and Milly will stay [as captain and vice-captain], that’s 100 percent the logical thing to do,” Klopp told reporters in 2018.
“It would have been like that if we voted. [For the] next two, the players can vote.
“Now we have, as we say in Germany, ‘the salad’, because now two Dutch guys are in a row.
“The team decided No. 3 for Virgil and No. 4 for Gini Wijnaldum.
“If somebody told me that would happen in my life, as a German with two Dutch guys in such an important role?! No, that’s the players’ decision.”
Wijnaldum has started six games as captain so far this season, most recently against his former club Newcastle in last month’s 1-1 draw at Anfield.
His approach may be less vocal than his fellow leaders, but he is clearly valued by a manager who, despite his protests to the contrary, recognises the importance of an appointed captain on the pitch.
This is highlighted by at least one of Henderson, Milner, Van Dijk and Wijnaldum starting in every game this season, even in the early rounds of the League Cup and the FA Cup third-round clash with Aston Villa‘s academy.
The likes of Yves Bissouma and Sander Berge have been mooted as possible replacements for Wijnaldum on the pitch, but Klopp will also be mindful of losing one of his dressing room leaders.
It could come down to another vote – if Wijnaldum does depart – with Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold prime candidates, while Salah could also lay claim to the role.