After watching the rise of Cody Gakpo over the last few years in the Eredivisie, one of the first things you notice is how good his decision-making is. Yes, he is excellent off both feet, a creator as well as a goalscorer, strong, fast, good in the air and versatile. Yet this would not be half as effective as it is without the cool, calculated way in which he nearly always makes the right decision at the right time, whether it is with the ball at his feet or through intelligent runs and movement. It was warming to see the 23-year-old show this on the ultimate stage for the Netherlands at the World Cup.

Yet one cannot help wondering whether that ability to make the right decision has been undermined by his choice to move to Liverpool, a January transfer that few saw coming as quickly as it did.

On paper, there is no doubt that it is an exciting move for the club and player. The man from Eindhoven is joining one of the biggest clubs in the world, in one of the strongest leagues around, and will be playing Champions League football this season. He will also be under the tutelage of one of the best coaches on the planet in Jürgen Klopp. It is scary to think how good he could in theory become under the German. For Liverpool, they are signing one of Europe’s brightest stars with big potential who will be able to make an immediate impact, with key attacking players Luis Díaz and Diogo Jota out injured for several months. And when those missing individuals return, Liverpool will have up to eight versatile forwards, giving them serious attacking depth. He should also adapt well to Klopp’s front-foot attacking style and benefit by playing alongside the likes of Mohamed Salah.

The short-term benefits for the soon-to-be-former PSV Eindhoven captain are clear. However, scratch below the surface and you must ask – is this the right move for Gakpo in the long term?

There are countless examples of Eredivisie jewels arriving in bigger leagues only to gain dust on the shelf or not shine as brightly as expected. For recent examples, look at Donny van de Beek or Ryan Gravenberch, whose careers are being stunted by lack of playing time at Manchester United and Bayern Munich respectively. The timing of a move for a young player is everything. This will not initially apply to Gakpo, with Klopp immediately needing him to cover for injuries. Yet with a full-strength squad, Gakpo is simply not guaranteed the regular first-team football required for the next stage in his development. This is something that should have been his number one priority when making the decision over where to move next.

At PSV, Gakpo was most effective playing off the left, cutting inside onto his right foot. In Klopp’s preferred 11, that role has rightly been assigned to the highly impressive Diaz. It might take the Colombian some time to get back up to speed following injury but when he does, it would be surprising if he were to be dropped after his performances to date. On the right, there is a certain Salah, one of the world’s best who currently shows no signs of slowing down nor of having the desire to move. Could Klopp redefine Gakpo as the centre forward in a fluid front three? Perhaps. However, a mere £70 million was spent in the summer in signing Darwin Núñez to be that figurehead. Is Klopp really going to abandon that plan so swiftly? Another facet of Gakpo’s play is drifting into that central position but Klopp’s wingers do that to a lesser extent now since the arrival of Núñez.

There is even strong competition for the back-up attacking places – Gakpo may need Roberto Firmino, a vital cog for Klopp these last 7 and a half years, to leave on a free transfer next summer if he is to supplant him. The aforementioned Jota has already proven himself highly effective and someone who surely won’t be shoved out of the door. This campaign has also been a positive one for Fabio Carvalho, a 20-year-old signed for the future but already delivering in the present. Will Gakpo in time just be a squad player in the northwest? Someone to be given the odd opportunity when first-teamers are rested or as a specialised impact substitute? Is that a role fans of his would have predicted for him following his 13 goals and 17 assists for PSV this season and 3 strikes in the World Cup?

It also cannot be denied that Liverpool is a club in transition. This could of course provide opportunities for Gakpo but it is widely accepted that the team is going through a natural state of re-building after such sustained success in recent years, the starting gun for which came with the sale of Sadio Mané last summer. Beyond this season, there is no guarantee that Gakpo will be getting the regular Champions League game-time that he craves, with Liverpool currently in a 5-team battle for what is realistically two remaining qualification places. Future uncertainties always arise when a club is up for sale, which Liverpool now is with owners FSG looking for buyers. One of these doubts, no matter what he says to the contrary, surrounds the manager Klopp. He has already surpassed the 7 years he spent in his two previous jobs and, at 55, may soon look for pastures new. The appeal of working for Klopp would have been a big pull for Gakpo. To lose him would be an even bigger blow.

There is also a sense of disappointment that he did not see the campaign through at PSV. Will Gakpo feel a tad of sadness or regret if his hometown club go on to win a domestic double this season, knowing he could have been the one lifting the trophies as captain? After not moving to the Premier League last summer, it initially looked like Gakpo would see out one full campaign under Ruud van Nistelrooy. This assumption only increased pre-World Cup, with Gakpo flying and PSV in the hunt for three trophies including the Europa League. A big move next summer would surely still have come and Gakpo could have left with his reputation and legacy in Eindhoven cemented even further. And whilst PSV is receiving a record fee from Liverpool, that number would surely have been even higher had they held out until the end of the season.

The idea of Gakpo donning the famous red Liverpool shirt and playing at the historic Anfield stadium under Klopp in an attacking, trophy-hungry machine is a tantalizing one. Yet there are question marks about whether it will ultimately prove to be the best move for his career. For a player of his quality and potential, Gakpo needs to be given centre stage. To be the main man, not a squad player and rotation option, no matter how good the squad he is in. Will he ever be given that opportunity at Liverpool?




Joe Baker (6 Posts)