Liverpool may have the best squad in the Premier League but the common consensus is the division’s best player is strutting his stuff 30 miles away.
But, just a few months after Kevin De Bruyne swapped the green of Wolfsburg for Manchester City’s sky blue, did Liverpool miss out on the chance to sign a playmaker with the potential to be even greater than European football’s most influential attacking midfielder?
“He is extraordinary,” says the legendary Zbigniew Boniek, a Juventus and Roma great who finished third in the Ballon D’Or rankings in 1982.
The object of Boniek’s bold proclamations?
Napoli’s Piotr Zielinski – a name that will transport Liverpool fans back to the winter of 2016, when Jurgen Klopp was still arranging the furniture in his Melwood office.
“Zielinski is a player with pure technique. He can shake off a marker with a single touch. He’s unpredictable – and becoming a father will help him to become even more mature,” Boniek said to Radio Kiss Kiss, via Football Italia.
“If he scored more goals, Zielinski could become even better than De Bruyne. Piotr is capable of scoring in any way and also provides many assists.”
Of course, Zielinski isn’t yet at the level of arguably the greatest playmaker of the Premier League era.
But, with eight goals and assists in 18 matches for Scudetto dark horses Napoli this season, the former Empoli youngster is starting to do what Boniek and so many others have been waiting for – he is adding a ruthless streak to his defence-splitting passes, boggling two-footedness and masterful precision.
Even De Bruyne himself would have been proud of the sublime brace Zielinski pulled out of thin air during Napoli’s 4-1 thrashing of Cagliari recently.
So why didn’t Zielinski end up joining De Bruyne in England’s north west all those years ago?
Goal reports Liverpool had a £10 million bid rejected in January 2016 but grew frustrated as Napoli moved the goalposts, eventually passing on to alternative targets.
The closest Zielinski came to wearing that iconic red shirt was in that infamous photograph – this one here, if you needed a reminder.
It’s not all bad news, though.
Liverpool would go on to sign an energetic Dutchman from relegated Newcastle United in Zielinski’s place. Five years, four trophies and more than 200 appearances later, it’s hard to believe there was so much scrutiny surrounding Wijnaldum’s arrival.
But, for all Wijnaldum’s qualities, he’s no De Bruyne. Then again, nor is Zielinski. Not yet anyway.