Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wijnaldum: Football? I Was Only into Gymnastics as a Kid

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wijnaldum: Football? I Was Only into Gymnastics as a Kid

Article excerpt

Byline: David Lynch in Madrid

FOR a man who can justifiably consider himself an elite-level footballer, Georginio Wijnaldum is not scared to admit that he does not have much interest in watching the sport.

In fact, he never has been. A passion for gymnastics defined the Dutchman's childhood in Rotterdam before his grandmother, Francina, eventually turned his focus to football.

It resulted in Wijnaldum starting on a journey that has brought him, via Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and Newcastle, to Liverpool, with whom he will contest a second consecutive Champions League Final tomorrow.

The 28-year-old's importance to the Reds was, perhaps, best underlined by assistant manager Pep Lijnders' recent declaration that he, along with Roberto Firmino, "represent 'our way' in the best way possible".

But his relationship with the sport that provides him a living remains peculiar and when asked about that fact, he says: "That's why I don't know a lot of players! I was interested in football, but not like the younger kids, who breathe football every day. I was interested in gymnastics.

"I didn't even go to the games. When I was at Sparta Rotterdam [as a youth player], they gave us season tickets, but I always gave them away to my friends, so they could go with their families.

"Even now, I don't watch a lot of football. I was always a fan, but it wasn't my No1 priority. I loved gymnastics and doing that with friends." Given that football barely registered on his radar as a child, at least Wijnaldum won't be burdened by the weight of history surrounding this fixture.

"I had a dream to play as high as possible, but Champions League football? I never really had that dream," he adds. "I probably never even watched [the finals] when I was a kid. The only thing I wanted was to be a professional footballer and to play in the World Cup. …

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