Repressed by disappointing campaigns for both club and country so far this season; Georginio Wijnaldum has emerged as the bright spark in both the Netherlands and Newcastle United squads following an impressive string of performances over the last fortnight.
To recognise his outstanding impact since joining the Premier League earlier this summer; Shoot takes a closer look at the Magpies’ new midfield maestro after a weekend he will never forget.
Where did it all start for the Newcastle ace?
Born in Rotterdam, Netherlands; Wijnaldum never took an interest in football whilst growing up. After moving in with his grandmother in South Holland from the age of six, Wijnaldum’s ultimate ambition was to become a professional gymnast or acrobat. That all changed when Georginio’s nephew invited him down to an open day at the Sparta Rotterdam youth academy. And the rest, they say, is history.
After signing on; Wijnaldum’s talent as a footballer blossomed tremendously, winning back-to-back championships with the club, which inevitably alerted the ‘big boys’. Soon enough the likes of Ajax, Feyenoord Rotterdam and PSV Eindhoven were all scouting the highly-rated youngster, although it wasn’t until near his 14th birthday that Wijnaldum decided to leave Sparta Rotterdam for Feyenoord in a move that he believed would aid his player development for the future.
Having joined the likes of Leroy Fer (Queens Park Rangers) in their youth set-up; Wijnaldum once again stood head and shoulders above the rest of the pack, before being invited to train with Feyenoord’s first-team just a few weeks after turning 16.
On Sunday, April 8 2007; Wijnaldum made his first-team debut for the club at the age of 16 years and 148 days old, becoming the youngest-ever player to represent Feyenoord. Despite a 4-0 defeat to FC Groningen that day, Wijnaldum was chosen as the hosts’ man of the match in what was to kick start a prosperous career.
What happened next?
Fast forward eight months; Wijnaldum bagged his first goal in senior football, adding to Feyenoord’s 6-0 demotion over Heracles Almelo in the Eredivisie. The following season included another milestone for the 17-year-old; his European debut, starting against Swedish outfit Kalmar FF in the UEFA Cup, only to suffer defeat again on another club debut (0-1).
But Wijnaldum soon made amends for their slip-up inside the De Kuip; scoring in the return leg in Sweden to help Feyenoord fend off their qualification opponents to reach the group stages of the European competition. Towards the back end of that campaign; his impact at first-team level earned Wijnaldum a new contract at the club, keeping him tied down at Feyenoord until the summer of 2012.
When did he start to shine for Feyenoord?
You may think his four-goal heroics at the weekend was a one-off? Think again…
Wijnaldum took revenge on his debut day victors FC Groningen in devastating fashion by scoring four goals against their Eredivisie rivals, including two penalties in the second-half. His four-goal tally inside the De Kuip capped off Wijnaldum’s best campaign in professional football, finishing the 2010-11 term with an impressive 13 goals in 34 appearances in all competitions. It was time to make another step up.
Wijnaldum then joined 21-time league champions PSV in June 2011 for a reported fee of €5m. He made his debut for the Red and Whites just two months later in their opening Eredivisie 3-1 defeat to AZ Alkmaar, before scoring his first goal for his new club just a fortnight later in PSV’s 3-0 victory in ADO Den Haag.
Having firmly established himself in the first-team fold once more under manager Fred Rutten; Wijnaldum replicated his form of yesteryear by finishing his debut campaign with PSV with 13 goals in 43 appearances in all competitions. But that was only a sign of things to come as the Netherlands ace then went one better during the 2012-13 campaign, in fact four better, by netting 17 times in 40 games.
But it wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that Wijnaldum’s true importance and value shone through at the Philips Stadion. Following the retirement of Dutch legend Mark van Bommel and the key departure of Kevin Strootman to Italian giants Roma; Wijnaldum was rewarded with the role as PSV’s captain for the forthcoming season.
However; back problems restricted the new skipper to just 11 appearances, including four goals, as PSV had to settle for a fourth-place finish in the Dutch top-flight, 12 points behind eventual champions Ajax.
That all changed when Wijnaldum returned injury-free for the 2014-15 season; a campaign that will live long in the memory of Georginio. The captain surpassed his best-ever goalscoring tally to net 18 times for PSV in 47 appearances in all competitions for Phillip Cocu’s side, captaining his team to their first Eredivisie title in eight years after romping the league table to finish a sensational 17 points ahead of defending champions Ajax.
To top it all off; Wijnaldum even scooped the award for 2014-15’s Dutch Footballer of the Year, ahead of the Eredivisie’s top goalscorer and now Manchester United ace Memphis Depay.
That is when Newcastle United plucked up the courage and came forward. Wijnaldum became the Magpies’ most expensive signing under Mike Ashley’s ownership and new head coach Steve McClaren’s first acquisition at St James’ Park after joining the Premier League outfit for a reported fee of £14.5m on a five-year deal back in mid-July.
Since then; the Netherlands international has proven to be a summer signing sensation after scoring on his debut in English football, briefly putting Newcastle ahead in their opening day 2-2 draw at home to Southampton (Above). Wijnaldum then followed up his goalscoring talent with another vital strike against defending Premier League champions Chelsea only last month, before Sunday’s four-goal heroics against Norwich City landed the Magpies their first win of the league campaign ahead of this weekend’s mouthwatering Wear-Tyne derby at Sunderland.
What about his displays on the international front?
Despite both of his parents being of Afro-Surinamese descent, Wijnaldum was always in the Netherlands’ fold from a very early age. He was one of the Dutch’s key players at the 2007 UEFA European Under-17 Championships, despite his side failing to advance from the group stage after finishing behind England and hosts Belgium.
But his performances at that major tournament soon earned him a call-up into the Under-19, where he stole the limelight once more, although the Netherlands once again underachieved by failing to qualify for the 2008 European Under-19 Championships in Czech Republic and the 2009 European Under-19 Championships in Ukraine.
Moving onto 2009; Wijnaldum had to turn down his first call-up to the Netherlands’ Under-21 squad due to injury, before eventually making his debut in September that year in their European Under-21 Championship qualifier win win (2-0) over Finland. A further 23 appearances as a youth international saw Wijnaldum sit ninth in Holland’s most capped Under-21 players, making him ready for the senior first-team.
Monday, May 30 2011; Wijnaldum was named in the Netherlands squad to face Brazil and Uruguay in forthcoming friendly fixtures, although he failed to make his international bow in those encounters. It wasn’t until September that the PSV star appeared for the Dutch’s senior side after replacing Strootman in the 86th minute against minnows San Marino in their 2012 European Championship qualifier. His substitute appearance late on gave Wijnaldum just enough time to announce his name to the world, scoring the Netherlands’ final goal in the 90th minute during their eventual 11-0 rout inside the Philips Stadion.
A mixture of unfortunate injuries and Under-21 duty saw Wijnaldum drop out of the senior squad for just over two years. However; his undeniable form for PSV earned Wijnaldum a place in the Netherlands’ 2014 World Cup squad, where he appeared in all seven games for his country, including a memorable injury-time strike against hosts Brazil to seal their third-place play-off victory.
Overall; Wijnaldum now has 23 international caps to his name, including four goals. He has featured in every Netherlands fixture possible since last summer’s World Cup finals; bar injury, where he was part of the Oranje squad that failed to qualify for next year’s 2016 European Championships in France after finishing fourth in Group A.
Why is he so dangerous?
Despite only just arriving in the Premier League; Wijnaldum has already adapted to English football brilliantly, sometimes single-handedly lifting an underwhelmed Newcastle side out of tricky situations already this season. The Netherlands international has consistently shown in the Eredivisie; from his last campaign with Feyenoord to his four-year spell with PSV, that he can provide a shed load of goals and assists from the centre of the park. Wijnaldum is an energetic, combatic and creative midfielder that has an eye for goal, perhaps something that the Magpies have been missing since offloading Yohan Cabaye to Paris Saint-Germain last January. Almost proven to bag you double figures; Wijnaldum is an attack minded player who can also prove his worth as a winger on either flank.
His electrifying pace is probably his most crucial attribute which has allowed him to hit the ground running in the English top-flight, helping him pass defenders with his turn of pace and trickery. Sunday’s spectacle against Norwich demonstrated just how devastating Wijnaldum can be in the final third for Newcastle, helping ease the pressure off a below-par front force at St James’ Park this season. The 24-year-old has proved to be Steve McClaren’s knight in shining armour so far this term; but don’t expect him to be drifting off-peak anytime soon, Wijnaldum has a habit of being consistently impressive throughout the entire season if he remains fully fit.