Cody Gakpo: Bible lessons, his best role at Liverpool and making up for last season

The setting is a plush suite in the five-star Ritz-Carlton, offering stunning panoramic views of the Marina Bay area of Singapore.

It’s a world away from where Cody Gakpo spent his summer holiday after a gruelling 2022-23 season for both club and country.

His father, Johnny, was born in Togo and they went on a trip there together. His family provide help and support to impoverished communities in the west African nation, and Gakpo was photographed handing out bowls of food to hungry youngsters.

“It was my first time over there and it was amazing,” Gakpo says, having settled into a chair at the hotel Liverpool are using as their base on an ongoing two-game pre-season tour here. “A really nice experience as I was also able to see lots of my relatives.

“I’ve always wanted to go but normally my dad was working when I had a vacation from football so it was hard. I had to go with my dad because he speaks the language.

“As a family, we do some charity work there. It is important to help and give back as much as you can. I try to help as many people as I can.”

That sense of duty stems from his Christian faith — something he shares with other senior members of the Liverpool set-up, including goalkeeper Alisson (who famously baptised then-Anfield team-mate Roberto Firmino in his home swimming pool in 2020) and manager Jurgen Klopp.

Gakpo spent a chunk of the 13-hour flight from the UK to Singapore reading the Bible, and following Sunday’s emphatic 4-0 win over Championship side Leicester City here he posted a passage from its Book of Proverbs to his 1.4 million Instagram followers: ‘The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.’

Calm and composed, the 24-year-old Netherlands international has grown in stature since joining Liverpool from PSV Eindhoven back home for an initial £37million (around $44m at the time) in January.


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“My religion helps not only my career but my whole life,” Gakpo explains. “It’s a lifestyle kind of thing for me. I take the Bible with me every day, whether it’s in the UK or wherever else. I read it, I speak to people on the phone about it every day, always trying to learn from it. It never stops.

“I was always searching for these kinds of things and now, for the past three or four years, I’ve been getting deeper into it. It’s about learning how to live your life with the gifts that God has given you. There are a lot of passages in the Bible about that.”

A return of seven goals and two assists in 26 appearances for his new club in the second half of last season doesn’t do justice to Gakpo’s impact at Liverpool.

Having operated largely on the left for PSV, Klopp increasingly used him through the middle as a false nine. Gakpo embraced learning a new role as he was effectively asked to fill Firmino’s boots. Lift-off came in early March, when he scored twice in the historic 7-0 demolition of Manchester United.

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(Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

“It was difficult at the beginning because, as a team, we weren’t winning games,” he says. “Personally, it was tough to get to the level I wanted to show everybody. I needed some time to adapt. But we started to play very well towards the end of the season and almost got in the Champions League.

“As the false No 9, I can drop a little bit into midfield, stay a bit deeper, look at situations, and start attacks. I don’t have to wait for an attack to come to me. To be that involved in games is nice.”

His versatility is priceless for Klopp, who has also used him in one of the advanced midfield positions. What does he think his best position is?

“It’s difficult to say, as it depends on the game and the opponent,” Gakpo says. “I just like to be in a position where I can get on the ball a lot. I like to carry it from midfield to the attacking side and then hopefully score or assist. My preference? Just to play. You have to change some things tactically when you play different roles but you get used to it. It’s not that difficult.”

A first pre-season under Klopp has been something of an eye-opener for Gakpo, with triple sessions during a recent training camp in Germany. Now they have the sweltering heat of Singapore to contend with.

“We’ve had lots of hard sessions but I’ve really enjoyed it,” he says. “In Germany, it was like… wake up, train, breakfast, train, rest a little bit, train. I’d done three sessions a day previously but at lower intensity. This is different to what I’d experienced previously — really intensive. But I like it.

“When you come to a place like this so far away, you realise how big the fanbase is.”

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(Photo: Lionel Ng/Getty Images)

So much has changed since the end of last season. Captain Jordan Henderson has left for Al Ettifaq and Fabinho is on the brink of completing his move to another Saudi outfit, champions Al Ittihad.

Those unexpected exits have followed the departures of James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and Firmino as free agents. Gakpo will always be indebted to how Henderson helped him settle following his winter-window move.

“Hendo was like a big brother,” he says. “He was always asking me how I was, if where I was living was OK, did I need anything?

“He was a real captain, inside the field and outside the field, always there for everybody, a great personality. He’s an example of how a professional player has to be. I really looked up to him. I could learn a lot from him. I could have learned more, but that’s not possible anymore. A really great guy and a great footballer. As the coach said, he’s a legend and we will miss him.”

Summer signings Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai will be tasked with helping to launch a new era and Gakpo is buoyant about the future.

“Both really good players with a lot of quality,” he says. “You guys have seen that in the training sessions already and in the games they played at their previous clubs. We’re lucky to have them. When players with so much experience leave, it’s a pity for the club. But it also gives room for other players to improve. It will happen naturally.”

Gakpo is also excited about the calibre of the youngsters coming through.

Teenagers Bobby Clark and Ben Doak both scored in the rout of Leicester. Centre-back Jarell Quansah, 20, impressed and made a goal-saving block in the second half, while James McConnell, Calum Scanlon, both 18, and Melkamu Frauendorf, 19, were also involved.

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Bobby Clark celebrates (Photo: Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

“It’s really good to have the kind of academy that brings up this level of talent,” Gakpo adds. “They are still young. They have time now to develop even more. I think everyone is going to enjoy seeing a few of them playing (for the first team), whether that’s this season or the one after.”

The tour here concludes tomorrow (Wednesday) against Bayern Munich, then there’s one final friendly versus Darmstadt, another German club, at Preston North End’s Deepdale next Monday night before the season begins properly away to Chelsea on Sunday, August 13.

For Gakpo, the mission for 2023-24 is clear — make amends for last term’s underwhelming fifth-place finish, 22 points off the title pace, and get Liverpool back competing for silverware.

“Everyone wants to put it right,” he says firmly. “We showed in the last 10 games what we can do (going unbeaten while winning seven in a row). Everyone wants to start from there and get better and better. Everyone is hungry for it.

“The Europa League is still a big competition, and we’ll take it seriously. We’re in it to win it. For the club, it’s about getting back to winning trophies again and I want to contribute to that success as much as possible.”

(Top photo: ANP via Getty Images)

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