There are breakout stars at every World Cup. In 2014, James Rodriguez made himself a household name by producing a series of eye-catching performances, winning the Golden Boot in the process. The 2022 tournament is only a week old, but Cody Gakpo is already emerging as the new Rodriguez.
Gakpo’s name was a staple of the transfer gossip column over the summer. Manchester United were strongly linked with the PSV Eindhoven attacker, but only as an alternative to Antony who ultimately made a €100m switch to Old Trafford. Leeds United were also mentioned as suitors of the 23-year-old.
Leeds, and clubs of a similar ilk, have almost certainly missed their chance to land Gakpo such has been the standard of his performances for the Netherlands at the 2022 World Cup. The Dutch have yet to find top gear in Qatar, but Gakpo has two goals in two games and has nailed down a starting spot as their first-choice centre forward.
It can be somewhat difficult to isolate Gakpo’s true position on a soccer pitch. On paper, the 23-year-old plays as a number nine or as a winger off the left side. However, his natural instincts see him dropping deep and running the channels when the space appears. In a sense, Gakpo is a position-less attacker.
The modern game suits Gakpo well. Coaches are demanding more from their attackers than ever before – see how Erik Ten Hag pushed Cristiano Ronaldo aside at Manchester United due to his inability to press from the front. The best modern forwards have physical presence, but also have the technical ability to contribute in possession and the mobility to help out defensively too. Gakpo ticks all the boxes.
At just 23, there is scope for Gakpo to improve further. There have been signs this season that he has sharpened his edge in front of goal, scoring nine goals in just 14 Eredivisie performances on top of three goals in just five Europa League games. The World Cup, however, has given Gakpo his biggest stage to date to demonstrated his talent.
“In any event he is a player with a lot of talent and possibilities,” said van Gaal after Gakpo’s goal-scoring performance against Ecuador. “He is young and is still evolving. He has a lot of room for improvement and he is a personality who will do everything it takes. Whether he will become the star of the World Cup, I can’t promise you that but it is possible.”
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Chelsea could also be in the market for a new striker, particularly if Romelu Lukaku leaves the club permanently after spending this season on loan at Inter, while Liverpool are on the brink of a squad rebuild – Gakpo would bring many of the qualities Jurgen Klopp looks for in an attacker. Gakpo will be a man in-demand once the transfer window opens.