Big-game players are a rarity in football. The sort of player who thrives in high pressure matches and consistently delivers on the big occasion. It’s not something you can teach or perfect. It's simple really; you either have the ability to deliver in those kinds of games or you don’t.
Even some of the world’s very best have a tendency to disappear in high profile matches. After all, it takes a special sort of mentality to not crumble in games that can be described as season making and career defining. Some relish the challenge, allowing it to bring out the best of them, whereas others wilt.
Liverpool's Gini Wijnaldum is a big-game player and he's filling a void in the team that's been overlooked for far too long now.
For the past decade or so Liverpool have been accused of being bottlers. They manage to manoeuvre themselves into favourable positions but then get overawed by the occasion. They crumble under the weight of expectation.
The less said about the final hurdle of the 2013/14 season the better. The Reds, under Brendan Rodgers, lost their heads in an all important match at Anfield against Manchester United in the 2014/15 season. A fine run of form had seen them get to within touching distance of a top four finish but then they failed to turn up against their fierce rivals. It was almost like a training session.
Something similar happened against Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-final. Liverpool took the lead but never looked comfortable in such a setting. Jürgen Klopp guided the team to two cup finals in his debut campaign with the club but managed to win neither. In both finals the team looked like a shell of the team from earlier rounds in the competitions.
Given he played in the semi-final defeat to Villa, It's perhaps lazy to suggest the Merseyside team missed Steven Gerrard, but they did miss his big-game presence that the more youthful Liverpool captain used to offer.
He's still the only player to have scored in the FA Cup final, League Cup final, UEFA Cup final and the Champions League final. He scored 10 goals against Everton and nine against Manchester United. He was the definition of a big-game player and Liverpool have lacked that since his departure.
Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino both deliver moments of magic from time to time but neither have done it on a consistent basis yet.
Sadio Mané has adapted to life at Anfield with relative ease and is the club's top scorer this season. He's managed to find the net in matches against Arsenal, Spurs and Everton. The former Southampton man is on his way to becoming what many would consider to be a big-game player but he's no Wijnaldum.
Big-Game Gini Wijnaldum
Gini with goals against Arsenal, City and Chelsea as well as an assist against Spurs. Big game player.
— Sam McGuire (@SamMcGuire90) March 4, 2017
The Dutchman's acquisition was met with a lukewarm response by fans of the Reds in the summer. The club parted with £25million to secure his services and it was a bit of a head scratcher having already paid north of £30million to sign Mané.
He had played as an attacking midfielder for Newcastle United and Liverpool had those in abundance. But Klopp had other ideas and deployed him in a deeper role. The 26-year-old took a little time to adapt to this new role with his new team but it wasn't before long he was knitting the play together nicely with his one-touch passing.
Jordan Henderson was getting all of the plaudits from the media for his performances as the deepest midfielder while Wijnaldum was quietly going about his business under the radar as the link-man.
His stats aren't anything to write home about with just the four goals and four assists in the league. But it's when you break them down you see the real importance of them.
He started the season with an assist in the 4-3 win over Arsenal. He broke from midfield and managed to pick Lallana out in the penalty area with a delicate cross. The former Southampton man did wonderfully to control it and finish meaning Wijnaldum's involvement is often forgotten.
The former Feyenoord man then grabbed the match winner against Manchester City on New Year's Eve. He rounded off a superb counter attack by guiding a header past City ‘keeper Claudio Bravo.
His next goal arrived exactly one month later. Champions elect Chelsea were the visitors at Anfield and were 1-0 to the good before Wijnaldum reacted to a deflected James Milner cross to nod home after getting forward to support the play.
The Liverpool No.5 was pivotal in their 2-0 win over Spurs in a match which could have all but ended their Champions League hopes. His incisive pass cut Mauricio Pochettino's men open as Mané finished with relative ease to put the home side ahead.
Arsenal were the next visitors at Anfield to feel the force of the Wijnaldum express. Alongside Emre Can and Adam Lallana, he made up one third of a midfield which utterly dominated the away side. He scored the third in a 3-1 win to put the icing on the cake.
Games Played: 25
Games Played: 25
Value for Money?
— Josh (@JoshStaceylfc) March 5, 2017
A goal is a goal no matter who you score it against and how you manage to do it, but having said that having a player in your ranks capable of scoring in those big games is priceless. With the Reds having to face Everton and Manchester City in the coming weeks, Wijnaldum could still have a huge part to play in the season.
If the versatile midfielder is able to maintain this big-game mentality then he could be one of the shrewdest signings the club have ever made.