Cody Gakpo: Liverpool’s new Dutch signing went the extra mile to succeed

Cody Gakpo is something of a pioneer.

Followed by a string of top clubs including Manchester United, the 23-year-old striker has scored 21 goals and provided 25 assists in 41 Eredivisie games since the start of the 2020-21 season.

A predominantly left-handed player, who can also play in the centre, Gakpo’s stock increased further with three goals at the World Cup in Qatar for the Netherlands.

“Cody wants to raise the bar”

Gakpo was born in Eindhoven and joined the PSV academy when he was six years old. His parents, a Ghanaian father and a Dutch mother, were among his strongest supporters throughout his career.

He has previously admitted to working on his game with his dad at local parks when time permits, such is his dedication to his development.

His additional work also includes one-on-one sessions with performance analyst Loran Vrielink, coach and founder of Tactalyse, a company designed to help footballers better understand their games.

“Cody wanted to raise the bar and be more efficient,” Vrielink told BBC Sport.

“He invests in himself. The players are more aware that they have to do more individual work to improve, they can’t just rely on the head coach.

“A lot of the details that we discuss are not easy to coach because we don’t have the time. You analyze the game and see the things that make the difference, like where he gets the ball and the direction of his head and his body.

“All of our players are developing cognitively and tactically. We adapt to the coach’s wishes and Cody accepts that.”

Vrielink says one of the main goals has been to help Gakpo thrive in different positions.

“Before the World Cup, we knew he was going to play as a number 10 or a striker in a different formation,” says Vrielink.

“We focused on the different positions. At PSV, [manager] Ruud van Nistelrooy wanted different things from him this season than Roger Schmidt did last year.

“He is always better on the left and looking at the Liverpool team there is the possibility of playing more [there]. That’s where he had the most success.”

Cody Gakpo
Gakpo has scored nine goals and registered 12 assists in the Eredivisie this season.

The “hybrid” winger

Physically and stylistically, there are similarities to former France and Arsenal star Thierry Henry – a growth hero for Gakpo and someone he still watches on YouTube.

The 6-foot-4 player is strong and technical, built more like a striker, but also has the pace and control to play wide.

“English football is faster, on a higher level,” says Vrielink. “He has to adapt and it takes time, but I’m confident he will succeed.

“He played a few games as a striker at PSV, [but] not a lot. He’s taller than most players, but with his touch and dribbling he can be very effective.

“He has good shooting range. He’s a different type of winger than what Liverpool already have.”

Dutch journalist Elko Born told the Football Daily podcast that Gakpo has all the traits to change his game in a tactically fluid environment – like the one created by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

“People say they see him evolving into a number nine in the future, partly because of his physique,” Born said.

“He can play with his back to goal. He’s a complete player and that’s appealing. We saw at the World Cup that he’s ready to take the next step in his career.”

“He looks at the game in a deeper way”

Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk has said his new club mate could c “to go to the moon and back”and it was Gakpo’s inner drive and desire that saw his career take off.

“Cody is a smart player, he thinks about the game,” adds Vrielink.

“He watches his actions and knows what makes him more consistent. If you do that more, you get more confidence.

“Before, he sometimes scored or sometimes not; the problem was not his finishing, but creating chances.

Cody Gakpo and Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk (right) says Gakpo (left) can ‘go to the moon and come back’ at the World Cup.

“We focused on creating 10 chances per game, and he’s doing that now. It all starts without the ball, understanding how to run; from there, you create and succeed.

“Some players look at goals and assists. Cody can look at the game more deeply because he is focused on what he needs to do.

“We talk about mentality, but understanding what you need to do on a tactical level gives you more motivation. If you create 10 chances per game like Cody does, you will get more goals and assists.”

Although the perception may be that Liverpool signed a player after a strong World Cup, the evidence suggests they have been preparing for it for 18 months. But now he has to take another step.

“The best players in the world don’t drop in form,” says Vrielink.

“That consistency is still lacking at a high level; you have to look at yourself to develop now.”

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