Liverpool and Netherlands forward Cody Gakpo is helping lead a faith-based focus among Dutch players, with more than half the nation’s World Cup squad reportedly joining prayer meetings.
Gakpo (pictured above) joined the Anfield side led by fellow Christian Jurgen Klopp for £40 million in December, straight after the Qatar World Cup.
Prayer meetings at the tournament stoked controversy among some football observers amid claims they split the squad after it was revealed 15 of the 26 players took part.
Gakpo, 24, and fellow forward Memphis Depay were leaders of the prayer movement, which was defended by the Dutch FA in a strong endorsement of the Bible.
Football correspondent Noa Vahle reported the association as saying: “It’s about more than football; it’s creating a kind of sense of togetherness. The Bible is a love letter and we read verses from it. We pray together and that happens in separate rooms. For those players it is very important, especially on a match day.”
Veteran Dutch journalist and former professional footballer Johan Derksen confirmed the importance of Christianity among the Netherlands players.
“They pray together a lot,” he said. “Coaches used to have to drag the whores out of the rooms – now they take Bibles everywhere.”
Gakpo has since revealed the central part Christianity plays in his life.
“Faith gives me peace and strength when I need it,” he told NRC. “If I can’t go to church, I call the pastor. I often read the Bible before I go to sleep. It is a kind of love letter that tells us how we should treat each other.
“I try to read the Bible every day, I pray every day, I like to go to church, and I read many books about the faith.”
Shared faith has helped improve team spirit in the Dutch team, he added.
“We often speak to each other about our faith, how we understand passages of the Bible which describe situations in life. This creates a bond among us.
“Faith is of course much more than football. We are thankful to God for what we have. We feel blessed as football players.”
Atletico Madrid and Netherlands forward Memphis Depay leads the squad’s prayer meetings, and revealed his goal celebration of covering his ears is a nod to his beliefs.
Former Manchester United frontman Depay, 29, said: “I indicate that I isolate myself from everything and I point to heaven. To what the outside world says, I have become deaf and blind. This shows that I read the Bible and continue to live in the word of Jesus.
“Faith gives me inner peace. I can rely on my faith, on God.”