Cody Gakpo is Netherlands' player of the Euros, can Arne Slot replicate it for Liverpool?

In another era, there was another Dutch footballer who was exceedingly talented in the art of cutting in from the wing, creating a yard of space inside the fullback and scoring with a firecracker of a shot.

It was Arjen Robben’s signature move for many years. His opponents knew what was coming. We all did; it was never any secret. Good luck stopping him, though. No matter how prepared they might be, Robben had a very useful knack of doing it anyway.

Cody Gakpo is on the opposite side for the Netherlands. He is a right-sided player on the left, rather than a left-sided player on the right. But he, too, loves the diagonal shot, fashioning an angle, then letting fly with equal measures of power and precision. And, yes, that is his name at the top of Euro 2024’s scoring chart.

He is not alone. Jamal Musiala of Germany has also scored three times. So did Ivan Schranz of Slovakia and Georges Mikautadze of Georgia before their teams were eliminated in the first knockout phase. At this juncture, however, nobody should be hugely surprised if Gakpo finishes this tournament with the Golden Boot.

Euro 2024 top scorers

All of which can feel a bit of a puzzle when you consider that a manager of Jurgen Klopp’s expertise appeared to have misgivings, for reasons never fully explained, about Gakpo occupying the same position in Liverpool’s team.

Gakpo was used more centrally, and more sparingly, in Klopp’s line-up even though there is a thick file of evidence — not just for the Netherlands but also, before that, PSV Eindhoven — to suggest the player is more effective in a wide position.

Ronald Koeman, his manager at international level, certainly appears to think so. “For me, his position is on the left because he is very dangerous if he comes one-on-one against a right full-back,” Koeman volunteered after the 3-0 win against Romania. “Inside, outside, he’s quick, he’s strong. He can play as a striker but he has shown today he is more dangerous on the left.”

Koeman went on to eulogise about Gakpo being the “most important player” of Euro 2024 so far and it was not entirely clear whether he was talking about the competition, as a whole, or just his own team. Everybody knew what he meant, however, when in his next sentence he talked about hoping Gakpo’s team-mates would find a way to “come to that level.”

Even ignoring, for one moment, his emphatic shot for the first goal, just consider the way Gakpo helped his team extend their lead by eluding the Romanian defender Radu Dragusin before having the presence of mind to poke the ball into Donyell Malen’s path.

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Gakpo was a threat coming off the left (Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images)

In the process, Gakpo became the youngest Dutchman, at 25 years and 56 days, to score for his country and register an assist in a tournament knockout match since Marco van Basten (23 years, 238 days) did the same against the Soviet Union in the 1988 European Championship final.

Plus there are all sorts of other statistics that make it easy to understand why Koeman now considers him a mandatory pick — a status that was reserved previously only for Virgil van Dijk, Memphis Depay and, when fit, Frenkie de Jong.

Did you know, for example, that there is only one player in the whole of Europe who has scored more than Gakpo in the last two major international tournaments? You might know the player: his name is Kylian Mbappe.

Exactly half of Gakpo’s goals for the Netherlands have come in either the World Cup or the European Championship. That’s six in 12. If you were analysing every Dutchman with seven or more goals throughout the team’s entire history, there is only one — Johnny Rep, from 1973 to 1981 — with a better ratio (eight in 12) .

Gakpo’s three goals in Euro 2024, meanwhile, put him in some esteemed company on the list of Dutch footballers who have managed the same in these tournaments. Van Basten is one, inevitably, as well as Dennis Bergkamp (1992), Patrick Kluivert (2000), Ruud van Nisterlooy (2004) and Georginio Wijnaldum (2020). All of these players are football royalty, if you are a follower of the Dutch team.

What Gakpo needs to avoid is the accusation that he is more effective for his country than his club. “Difficult question, to be honest,” he said, when he was asked why he had found it tough, at times, to show the same level of form for Liverpool. “These moments are normal for a player. It’s not always going to go well or the way you like. You can have a spell when things don’t go your way. I have a great team at Liverpool and people who believed in me during those moments. I played some good games and kept working very hard.”

In all competitions for Liverpool last season, there were 53 appearances for Gakpo, comprising 32 starts and 21 games when he featured as a substitute. He did manage 16 goals, which was respectable enough, but there were only six 90-minute performances for Klopp’s team and, in the Premier League, none until February 21.

The intriguing part is whether Arne Slot, Klopp’s successor, follows what Koeman has done and places his trust in Gakpo to flourish on the left side of attack.

It all feels a little up in the air, however, given that Liverpool were exploring the possibilities of signing Anthony Gordon from Newcastle United recently. Gordon would, in theory, have operated on the opposite flank to Mohamed Salah. And Gakpo? Well, it wouldn’t have made life any easier for him at Anfield.

So, yes, it is a puzzle. His latest goal in a Dutch shirt was timed at 121 kilometres per hour. He, more than anyone, seems to carry the team’s hopes, playing at the point of maximum expression. You have to wonder whether his new manager at Liverpool is impressed, too.

(Photo: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

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