Liverpool caught Man Utd napping over perfect Darwin Nunez alternative Cody Gakpo
The prospect of big lad Cody Gakpo running really fast every week in the Premier League is enticing. Liverpool should be happy with their business.
Who’s this then?
Cody Mathès Gakpo is a 23-year-old, 6ft 4ins winger born in Eindhoven, who has been playing for PSV since 2018. A good World Cup performance, scoring a goal in each of the Dutch group games, has seen him become a very desirable commodity. So much so that Liverpool are parting with £37 million for his signature with another £13millon in potential add-ons. That initial sum is literally just £2million more than they paid for Andy Carroll.
Gakpo is a product of the PSV academy, having joined his hometown club at the age of just seven, progressing through the development teams and under-age squads and into the reserve team Jong PSV in 2016, for whom he scored 17 goals in 26 games. This put him into the first team in February 2018, going on to win the league title that season.
It took him another season to get really established as a first-team regular. By 2019/20 he was ready for the big time, playing 39 games, scoring eight and making nine assists. In 2020/21 he upped his season’s goal tally to 11 in 29 outings.
It was the following season when he really proved himself, finishing the campaign with 21 goals and, just as importantly, 15 assists in 47 games. He also scored his first international goal and won the Eredivisie Player of the Year award.
If he wasn’t on everyone’s radar by now, then they just weren’t paying attention. And things have only got better in the current season. He played 14 Eredivisie games, scored nine and made 12 assists. From age 17 to 22, Gakpo scored 36 goals and provided 38 assists in 74 starts for the club. Is there any young player with better combined stats than that? The surprise is that it only took £37million to acquire him. When you think of the £73million Manchester United have spent on ruining perfectly good players like Jadon Sancho, it seems to be a steal.
Quite why it took his three World Cup goals to make him instantly desirable is a bit odd. He has been one of Europe’s top talents for well over a year now. His manager Ruud van Nistelrooy was keen to cash in on him, too. So it’s not like he had to be prised out of PSV. If the money was right, he could go.
Erik ten Hag said he was targeting him in January, but apparently the club’s officials were all on holiday or on the piss. They were too slow to actually offer any money, so Liverpool parachuted Virgil van Dijk into Eindhoven with a big bag of £20s, who gave the lad some spiel about how great Merseyside is. Ruud swept the money into his desk and drove them to the airport while United were still dozing on the toilet. The irony was Gakpo himself had said he fancied playing for United. He caught a lucky break there.
It isn’t hard to see why Liverpool wanted to be in the Gakpo business. First, he’s called Gakpo which is simply a fantastic word to say, especially in a Scouse accent. Try it. It’s poetry. Second, you can use his name as a verb. But more important than this, he will effortlessly fit into the team.
Why the love?
Did I mention he’s got a great name? He’s also a big unit at 6ft 4ins and a fast runner, which means that the weedier boys just bounce off him.
He’s a striker but he’s a winger. That’s like two players in one, Jeff. Hence why he scores goals and sets them up. Usually working on the left and cutting in onto his favoured right foot. That said, he’s scored 13 of his 72 career goals with his left foot, so it’s not like he’s useless on that side.
He can sprint at around 20mph. Given that Mo Salah, Darwin Nunez (who is currently the fastest in the Premier League this season at around 22mph) and Luis Diaz are all 20mph+ sprinters, that is going to be one fast strikeforce.
Everyone loves to see a big lad running at speed. That kind of physicality is one of football’s enduring attractions.
One of the reasons a big club hasn’t bought him before now, despite being such a great prospect, is probably because he was playing in the Netherlands and while Dutch football has provided us with some fantastic players, it has also given us some proper duffers. So much so that ‘was good in the Eredivisie’ is almost a byword for ‘will be rubbish in the Premier League’. Poor Donny van de Beek is just the latest to be ruined by the Premier League (well, Manchester United, anyway). Middlesbrough are still haunted by the ghost of Afonso Alves, a Brazilian who had scored 45 goals in 39 Eredivisie league games but who, were he possessed of an especially large banjo in the vicinity of a cow, could not have connected one with the other once he set foot on Teesside.
Perhaps his World Cup convinced doubters that he could do it on the biggest of stages. If so, that’s a bit odd as he only scored against Qatar, Senegal and Ecuador which, to be fair, are not the toughest opposition. Most fourth-tier teams would beat Qatar. Did scoring against those three finally convince the data analysts that he was the real deal? It must have done or he’d have been snapped up in the summer. Proof that data is nothing without understanding.
You wouldn’t call him especially elegant – he’s too tall for that – but he’s got very good ball control and is such a powerful runner. Once he’s got up a head of steam he will be hard to stop. He’s got an especially quick burst of speed to get past a close marker. He likes to run fast down the left, cut in and shoot across the keeper. But he can play through the middle too, using his strong running to good effect and he’s effective on the right where he can get to the line and whip it in with his right.
Weaknesses? Well, he doesn’t score many headers. Just three of his club goals so far have come from the Gakpo noggin which, for a strapping 6ft 4incher, is something he could definitely work on.
Three great moments
His World Cup goals:
Plenty to stir the blood here:
His assists are so impressive:
It’s easy to see him playing a similar role to how Nunez has been used so far, though Liverpool will hope he doesn’t get caught offside so often and can actually convert more one-on-ones. But in some ways he’s a very similar type of player and is clearly going to be fantastic on the counter-attack.
While Liverpool have taken their time to hit their stride so far this season, it is clear they are going to improve the depth of their squad with the addition of Gakpo on a five-and-a-half-year deal.
He’s absolutely hit the jackpot when it comes to wages, going from a tidy £20k per week to £120k at Anfield. Whether this will turn his head – it has been known for the big money to distract players from their game – remains to be seen but with Diogo Jota and Diaz out injured right now, he’ll doubtless go straight into the first team to make his debut against Wolves in the FA Cup. Jurgen Klopp seems convinced he’s bought a very intelligent player who is very adaptable, so we can look forward to Cody dishing out some serious Gakpo-ing in the years to come.