Gini Wijnaldum poses with a PSG shirt upon completing his move to the French capital

Behind him is the stadium of one of the world’s most glamorous football clubs, and the blue sky over one of its most beautiful cities, as Georginio Wijnaldum adjusts himself in front of the laptop on this, his big day introduced as the free agent signing of Paris Saint-Germain.

PSG in its 21st century iteration is the club whom few can turn down, although Wijnaldum, known to team-mates and friends as Gini, the Holland captain at the recent Euro 2020, is one of those elite-level players who had choices. First of all it was Barcelona and then, as their financial problems became clear, so one of Europe’s most ambitious sides came into the frame. A new beginning, and yet there is still a farewell to be resolved.

How did he come, aged just 30, to leave Liverpool, a club at which he had been a central part of the Jurgen Klopp revolution? Not just a Champions League and Premier League winner but a key figure in what might just be the greatest Anfield night of all, that 4-0 second leg comeback against Barcelona in 2019. When he played his last game there against Crystal Palace on May 23 Wijnaldum admits that all week he had been “fighting against my tears”. At the end of the day he posted on Instagram that he had wanted to stay at the club and that one day he would tell the story behind his departure.

At first, he is reluctant. This is, after all, PSG’s day – a club that he says made it clear in their approach and negotiations that they wanted him. Mauricio Pochettino he had met before, when he narrowly chose Liverpool over Tottenham Hotspur upon leaving Newcastle United in 2016. But as conversation turns to what it is like to feel “loved and appreciated”, so the story starts to tumble out over this Zoom call. It is clear that Wijnaldum feels bruised by his treatment by Fenway Sport Group, the owners of the club, and also by a section of the Liverpool support who have targeted him on social media.

Wijnaldum will be remembered on Merseyside perhaps most fondly for his goal in he miracle comeback against Barcelona in 2019

Credit: Clive Brunskill
/Getty Images Europe

“Well, yeah, there was a moment I didn’t feel loved and appreciated,” he says looking back over the past two years as part of this Liverpool side. “Not my team-mates, not the people at Melwood [training ground]. From them I know, I can say they all love me and I love them. It was not from that side. More the other side. There was a moment that I didn’t feel appreciated and loved and I have to say also there was social media.

“When it went bad I was the player who they blamed – [saying] that I wanted to leave. Every day in training and in the game I gave everything I had. During the years Liverpool meant so much to me and also the [positive] way the fans in the stadium were treating me. The fans in the stadium and the fans on social media – my feeling was that they were two different things.

“In the stadium, I can say nothing bad about them. They always supported me. And even when they came back, already knowing that I was going to leave, they still supported me and they gave me a great farewell. On social media, if we lost I was the one who got the blame. There would be moments when I was like ‘Wow, if they only knew what I was doing to stay fit and play every game’.

“The other side [of it] is that you cannot complain because that is your job. You get paid for it. You cannot complain about it. Other players [in a similar contractual position] might have said, ‘Ok, I am not fit’. You get players in their last year who are like, ‘I’m not playing because it is a risk’ [if one was to get injured]. I did the opposite. I was training hard. I was giving everything. I didn’t always play good but after the game I could look in the mirror and say, ‘I trained hard to get better’.

“I did the most possible treatment. With the physios I don’t remember when I had a day off because I played so many games and basically it was too much for the body. But I did so much to stay fit. If the fans only knew a little bit of what I was doing to be the best player possible for their club it would be different. I had that moment, but I feel every player has that feeling. If you ask all the players at Liverpool or even here at Paris Saint-Germain ‘Did you ever have a moment when you didn’t feel loved?’ they will all say there was a moment. Yeah, I obviously had that moment.”

It's all smiles for the Dutch midfielder, as he says he feels 'loved and appreciated' by PSG

Quite an answer for a man who had, a few minutes earlier, been determined not to speak of the past. He also railed a little against the media reporting of his contract talks at Liverpool, in which he feels he was portrayed as wanting more than was reasonable. It should be said that his smile is never far away and he reflects on these points more like a man who simply wants to put his case than any sense of vindictiveness. It clearly still stings, nonetheless.

“Some moments [of criticism] it was like ‘Wow, me again?’ It’s a collective. But in the team I never had that feeling [of blame]. My team-mates never had the feeling that I let them down, or was taking the p—, or something like that. With the team everything was fine.”

Whatever might be going on at Liverpool, it smells like the ruthless rebuild is well under way. Jordan Henderson is also struggling to come to an agreement on a new contract and many more of the Klopp era big hitters are coming to the end of deals. In 2023 alone, Henderson, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Virgil Van Dijk, Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri are all due free agency. At PSG it has been different for him. “What they did in the negotiations and now, having signed, the things they arranged for me, I feel loved,” he says. “I feel appreciated. That’s the thing you want as a player, that’s really, really important, if you feel appreciated and loved … that’s a good feeling.”

We look back at the famous 4-0 win over Barcelona in May 2019 that propelled Liverpool into their second Champions League final in two years, and Wijnaldum’s two second half goals after coming on as a substitute. What did Klopp say to him at half-time? “To be fair he probably spoke to me but I was so angry I didn’t listen to what he said,” Wijnaldum says.

“I remember that when I came in, I think Pep Lijnders [Klopp’s assistant] told me ‘When we build up, you have to come as a back three because the wingbacks always go higher so … you can get the ball with the build-up. In my head, I was like, ‘No, no, no, I’m not going to do that. I just try to be up front trying to score goals. I was so angry that I wanted to do my own thing and in the end it helped.”

He is smiling now and we finish by talking about Pochettino. “What impressed me the most about Pochettino is the way he works with players, the way he wants to improve the player in his career. When I was at Newcastle, I went to his house and he showed me on video how he was training with players to make them better. I think that’s what makes him a good coach. He’s not only busy with the team but also the individual to make the individual better.”

Of course, at the club where the Champions League remains tantalisingly out of reach, “an obsession” Wijnaldum says, he brings something that Pochettino does not have: a winners’ medal. The things that I saw and experienced at Liverpool I can bring to here.” He is modest about that, nonetheless. It feels like there might even be more he wants to say at how he came to leave Liverpool but for now, he feels this has been enough.