The ECHO chats exclusively with Robbie Fowler about Cody Gakpo’s first month as a Liverpool player.
Through little fault of his own, it’s been a difficult first month for Cody Gakpo at Liverpool.
Having been confirmed as a Reds player shortly before the turn of the year, the Netherlands international has found it tough to take flight in his fledgling weeks at Anfield.
Arriving into a team lacking confidence and short on options, particularly up top, Gakpo has been immediately thrust into proceedings as a result, with unfair demands placed on him given his attempts to adjust to a new life on Merseyside at a time when results and performances of Jurgen Klopp’s side have been someway short of the required standard. A move out of a hotel room in the coming days into a new home should at least help significantly in the adaptation process off the pitch.
Gakpo says: “From a football perspective, it’s a new environment on the pitch, with new players and a new team. I can tell it’s a great group. Every day I am looking forward to working with them, training hard, and playing the games. I am trying to adapt as quickly as possible, to improve every day and in the end, show the best version of myself.”
The expectations on the £37m forward to instantly perform have been harsh, which is something manager Klopp recognized in Friday’s pre-match press conference before Sunday’s FA Cup trip to Brighton.
“I am completely happy,” Klopp said of his new arrival’s opening month at the club. “People say he didn’t score but coming as a striker in our team at this moment ‘congratulations!’ And then getting judged because you don’t score, that’s cool…internally it is all fine and he is fine. He is a smart boy, he wants to learn and is a good listener. Everything is fine.”
The acceptance that the Netherlands star won’t reach top speed while the rest of the team is still struggling exists for Klopp and his staff and the former PSV Eindhoven frontman has not been afforded any real time away from the glare to get used to the Liverpool rigors in the same way players like Andy Robertson and Fabinho were afforded upon their respective arrivals.
Even someone like Luis Diaz, who himself was a big-money January arrival 12 months ago, entered the club in markedly different circumstances. The Colombia international joined at a time when a couple of weeks off in the schedule had allowed Klopp and his medical staff to get some key players fit once again.
The imminent returns of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah from international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations also helped alleviate the immediate pressure on Diaz, which, in turn, played an undoubted role in allowing the former Porto winger to flourish.
For Gakpo, the situation is in contrast; Liverpool are low on confidence and without Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota and Diaz. The former has missed the last eight games with a calf problem, while the latter duo has been sidelined since October. It’s easy to see why there are no instant results.
“Look it’s been a bit tough for him,” Robbie Fowler tells the ECHO. “He’s come in and he’s still trying to find his feet and in terms of playing out of position, he’s played in a few already.
“But if you look at where he’s played recently and at the World Cup he’s played in several positions anyway, so he’s done remarkably well. In terms of the Premier League, it’s a big thing. The speed and the pressure of playing in the Premier League are different from anywhere else.
“Add that to the pressure of playing for Liverpool as well and not every player can adapt [immediately] to playing for Liverpool because you talk about the mental side of the game and the mentality of a Liverpool player has to be spot on.
“For the life of me I am not questioning his mentality to play for Liverpool but they are a team that has had the very best people coming into the club and they have done so much due diligence in bringing him in, so you don’t write him off yet, you don’t write any player off.”
A total of 171 minutes to date at Liverpool means it is far too premature to be forming any real judgments either way. Having made his name on the left of the attack – a position where he scored three goals in five World Cup appearances for the Netherlands – the 23-year-old has been asked to play more centrally so far.
It was interesting to note that Klopp opted to keep Gakpo down the middle of the front three upon Darwin Nunez’s arrival from the bench in last week’s goalless draw with Chelsea too.
“It is a little bit different from what I’m used to,” he admits. “Normally, I have played on the left for almost the past three years. It’s something I can improve, playing in the striker role, and I want to show my quality there. It’s a great position and playing there makes me more complete as a technical player.”
Fowler adds: “You give him a little bit of time to settle and get used to a new environment, a new league, a new country and I am sure he’ll be a player that we all want to see, scoring goals.
“I am a striker and I think at one particular point something will bounce in for him. Whether that is off his backside, or his knee and I know that is an incredibly cliched answer but sometimes you need a bit of luck. That’s not just him but that’s the club as a whole, they could all use a little bit of luck at the moment.
“So it is not on Gakpo, there are others as well. Maybe he has found it tough but there’s no doubt that the work behind the scenes will be continuing.”