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Just why is Gini Wijnaldum leaving Liverpool with simple question unanswered

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Sunday May 23 was an emotional day for Gini Wijnaldum.

It was the culmination of eight months of blood, sweat and injury tears at Liverpool.



The 53rd game of an arduous and, at times, harrowing campaign concluded on the most unlikely of happy notes.



Wijnaldum, himself, had featured in 51 of those and a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace would signal the end of his five years on Merseyside.



The attempt to secure qualification to next season's Champions League was the main story of the day, but Wijnaldum's last game in Liverpool red was more than just a subplot.

Captaining the team in the absence of Jordan Henderson and James Milner, the Dutchman put aside his fluctuating feelings to ensure Jurgen Klopp's side ended a difficult campaign by sneaking into third.

With the midfielder into the final few weeks of a contract signed back in July of 2016, Klopp took the decision to reflect on the Anfield career of one of his most trusted lieutenants in his programme notes that day.

“ Gini Wijnaldum. An LFC legend now and forever." was Klopp's succinct appraisal.

"What this person – this wonderful, joyful, selfless person – has done for our team and club I cannot sum up in words, in truth, because my English is not good enough.

“He is an architect of our success. We have built this Liverpool on his legs, lungs, brain and his huge, beautiful heart."

In trademark Klopp style, it was poetic, but he was not merely paying lip service to a player who was set to depart, the Liverpool manager was desperate to retain his all-purpose No.5.

Wijnaldum's durability, dependability and versatility were all hugely admired by the Liverpool manager.

Even more so during a campaign when so many of his top stars spent at least some time on the treatment table.

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That 'iron man' Wijnaldum was only left out of one squad all season, at Lincoln City in the Carabao Cup, was testament to the absolute trust Klopp had in him.

Like his manager, Wijnaldum did not wish to seek pastures new, either.

Initially keen to sidestep the issue, the former Newcastle man implored reporters to put questions over his future to the club rather himself.

"Just ask Liverpool those questions," he said during an November international break. "Don't they answer?"

The ECHO reported back in December that the Oranje international was desperate to stay on Merseyside with his young family.

That was something he later backed up last month after his 237th and final appearance for the Reds.

A post-match guard of honour allowed the 10,000 fans in attendance the chance to properly serenade the 30-year-old.

For the final time, Wijnaldum was treated to one of the catchiest terrace anthems in years as the reduced attendance saluted their outgoing hero.

"I'm fighting against tears right now," he later told Sky Sports. "The people in Liverpool have shown me love during the five years. I will miss them, you know?

"I hope to have played many more years for the club but unfortunately things went different.

"I have to start a new adventure. I didn't sign somewhere else."

Wijnaldum was - and still is - under no obligation to inform Liverpool of his next move, but he was not looking to deflect attention away from it.

The midfielder has yet to formally sign a pre-contract agreement with anyone as interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona continues.

The obvious question, then, simply must be asked.

Given Wijnaldum was desperate to stay, Klopp would rather he didn't leave and the supporters hoped he wouldn't - just why is he about to depart Liverpool as a free agent?

How is an Champions League and Premier League-winning midfielder, who wants to stay, being allowed to walk away so easily?

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Just days after Wijnaldum's final Anfield appearance, his agent, Humphry Nijman, and legal adviser, Jan Kabalt, arrived in Barcelona to talk over the details of a reported three-year deal.

Given his age and the fact that new terms would have most certainly involved a significant pay increase, were Liverpool and their stringent business model unable or unwilling to reach those demands?

Since his initial arrival in 2016, Wijnaldum has watched on as the team's makeup has been restructured at significant cost.

The likes of Mohamed Salah, Andy Robertson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alisson Becker, Virgil van Dijk, Naby Keita, Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri, Takumi Minamino, Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota have all joined since Wijnaldum's £25m switch from Newcastle.

Ibrahima Konate will be the latest through the door on July 1 after his £36million buyout clause at RB Leipzig was triggered last month.

In that time, Sadio Mane, James Milner, Joel Matip, Divock Origi, Roberto Firmino and Trent Alexander-Arnold have all signed new contracts.

Both Salah and Robertson have since penned fresh deals, while Wijnaldum has remained tethered to the same terms of 2016.

So just why has the club made so many other players' contracts a priority while one of the most valued in the squad has been kept to the same agreement that was penned back when Liverpool were a team who did not compete regularly in the Champions League?

Viewed as one of the most well-liked and affable members inside the squad, Wijnaldum's often easy-going nature belied a quiet influence that exists in the Anfield dressing room.

Alongside skipper Henderson, vice-captain Milner and Van Dijk, Wijnaldum is one quarter of the players' leadership committee.

His opinion carries weight with his colleagues and he, alongside Van Dijk, was a driving force behind the powerful response to the fallout from George Floyd's killing in America last year.

But given the natural disposition of the genial and relaxed former PSV star, did Liverpool's power-brokers mistake that kindness for weakness?

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As those who deal with contract negotiations focused their efforts around so many others, many of whom who were not as integral to the success between 2019 and 2020, did Wijnaldum's refusal to rock the boat publicly lead to him being overlooked when it really mattered?

With Wijnaldum settled in the area and happy with life at the club, perhaps he was a figure who was taken for granted to an extent?

Anfield sources have always remained tight-lipped on the situation, with contract talks generally viewed as a player's personal business behind the scenes.

It's interesting to note that Liverpool's early-summer focus will centre around the contract situations of several other big names in the squad, however.

The club have plans to initially open discussions with the representatives of Alisson and Fabinho next month, before extending that to the likes of Van Dijk, Salah, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson.

Such a post-Wijnaldum strategy raises eyebrows when you consider the nature of his departure as a free agent.

If funds could be sourced for several other high-profile renewals, what was the fundamental problem keeping Wijnaldum from getting his wish?

Or is there even the most shocking of situations where he remains locked into a Liverpool contract - with a sizable pay hike - beyond July 1?

That he is yet to technically confirm an agreement with anyone else, despite ongoing links to both Barca and PSG, is enough for that to remain as the most outside of bets at this stage, at least.

It would represent a remarkable of U-turn at this stage, though,

In recent days Wijnaldum himself has started to cryptically hint at a wider, perhaps more explosive, story.

"I will have to look at my story and how everything went," he posted on Instagram last month. "The fans deserve to know the story behind it."

Earlier this week, he added : "Now is not the time to talk about Liverpool and the reason I left.

"Someday I will do that, after the tournament. Then it will become clear to everyone why things went the way they did.

"That's the problem, people look at it from the outside and don't understand it.

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"There are many supporters who ask me why I didn't just accept Liverpool's offer to extend my contract.

"But that's not all of course. It's about much more than that. Things happen behind the scenes that are beyond your control as a player.

"What I do want to say is that the people at the training complex, the employees of the club and my fellow players would have liked to keep me.

"I did tell them more. After that they completely understood my decision. That's important to me."

Wijnaldum wanted to stay and the offer of a new deal was proof that Liverpool wanted that too.

That the Netherlands international is now reluctantly ready for his next chapter proves that neither party wanted it enough.

Wijnaldum's is a Liverpool exit that will continue to prompt more questions than answers, for now.

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