For a few days at least, Georginio Wijnaldum looked set to swap Liverpool for Barcelona. It would have been a fine career move for the free agent, but, as is known to happen in football, there was another twist in the tale.
Now, everything has changed. Wijnaldum has snubbed the glitz and the glamour at the Camp Nou for the swanky City of Lights and Paris Saint-Germain. The hefty wage package played its part, of course, as did Mauricio Pochettino.
The furore over the coach’s future at the club appears to be over for now, and he duly stepped in over the weekend to convince Wijnaldum to choose his team instead. He is due to sign a three-year deal, pending a medical.
Georginio Wijnaldum now looks set to join Paris Saint-Germain after leaving Liverpool on a free
Mauricio Pochettino reportedly contacted Wijnaldum himself to convince him to choose PSG
Having two of the biggest names on the continent embroiled in a dogfight for his signature proves that Wijnaldum still has plenty to offer. PSG, a side stacked to the brim with attacking prowess, will be hoping he can fit in seamlessly.
They are clearly lacking in some important areas, after all. Despite their past dominance in Ligue 1, PSG fell short at the final hurdle in the top-flight, which is nothing short of a mandatory requirement under their Qatari ownership, recently.
Pochettino, although admittedly just months into the job, lost out to underdogs Lille on a final day of drama, and his side ended up just a single point behind the newly-crowned champions.
PSG’s star-studded team need more bite and quality in midfield to challenge for the big prizes
Improvement is needed for the next campaign and it appears the former Tottenham coach, now he has been unable to secure a north London homecoming, has identified exactly what he needs.
The imminent arrival of Wijnaldum shows his concerns are centred on his midfield. Marco Verratti is a key performer for PSG; when he turns up, his team-mates normally do as well. Without his grit, however, the giants look much more vulnerable.
Italy international Verratti is renowned for his unerring challenges, high work-rate and his technical ability in a deep-lying position. But he has struggled with injuries, making him a doubt for Euro 2020, and PSG failed to bare their teeth without him.
Wijnaldum may well help fix that problem. A box-to-box midfielder with an impressive engine, the Dutchman could be the man to help his new team take games by the scruff of their neck in their bid to challenge across every front.
Wijnaldum thrived as a box-to-box midfielder at Liverpool and will be a valuable asset to PSG
There is no doubting that PSG’s scouting network would have scoured tirelessly over Wijnaldum and crunched his numbers. But what do the raw statistics say, and do they reveal where he would fit in?
The bulk of Wijnaldum’s minutes for Liverpool last season came in the Premier League, so Sportsmail has taken a closer look at those performances.
First up is shooting. To succeed at PSG, you must either be able to score goals, or at the very least contribute in the moves leading to them. Wijnaldum, unfortunately, is not known for his prowess in this area – although Pochettino will be aware of this.
He netted two top-flight goals last term from 31 shots in total. Just nine of those were directed on target, leaving a successful percentage of 29 per cent. In short, PSG won’t be expecting Wijnaldum’s arsenal to fire them to glory in the future.
Jurgen Klopp brought in Wijnaldum from Newcastle in 2016 and has helped him to flourish
So what about passing? This is the area any capable midfielder will need to excel in. Wijnaldum looked to pull off 1747 passes in total, with 1630 of those finding its desired man. He is adept across both short and medium lengths.
His long balls are also surprisingly impressive. 171 sprayed passes flew off his boot last year, with 153 panning out.
The former Newcastle man is lacking in the assists department, however. His total of zero once again suggests that PSG will use him as a midfield anchor and in a role where recycling the ball is king.
It is also worth delving into his defensive statistics. Wijnaldum tackled a total of 30 players last season, with nine of those coming around Liverpool’s box. 16 took place in the middle of the park, and five were sent in around the opponents’ final third.
Marco Verratti is PSG’s standout midfielder but was affected by a string of injuries last season
Pochettino will likely want Wijnaldum to race across the whole of the pitch and harry players, and his new signing certainly appears able to do just that.
His eye-watering wage packet indicates that he will be a likely starter, too, pushing out anyone from the likes of Ander Herrera, Danilo Pereira and Rafinha.
Herrera made a name for himself at Manchester United through his relentless energy, passion and composure on the ball, and Wijnaldum, who is also a notable all-rounder, could slot in seamlessly next to him.
But with his ranks bolstered, Pochettino will undoubtedly have more of a headache for next season when it comes to the three players he opts for in midfield, all of whom will bring very different abilities to the table.
Pereira, for example, is more of an enforcer – and Rafinha, who joined from Barcelona in 2020, can be a creative hub behind PSG’s usual star-studded triumvirate up front.
Idrissa Gueye, Pablo Sarabia, Julian Draxler and Leandro Paredes are also options.
Ander Herrera is also an important player at PSG but may find himself benched for Wijnaldum
Wijnaldum, being a jack of all trades and a sizeable investment, looks set to be dropped straight into Pochettino’s project when the team reconvenes after the summer break.
After that, expectations will be high for him to fit in straight away with Pochettino’s preferred style of play. The boss may not have set the world alight after replacing Thomas Tuchel, but the Argentine’s philosophy and concepts remain the same.
His teams are typically sent out in either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 formation, and there is a focus on building up attacks centrally. Each of PSG’s midfielders are crucial in this stage, and Wijnaldum will be entrusted to keep the ball and shepherd it forward.
After that, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Angel Di Maria can be released down the flanks, and with those superstars leading their line, PSG typically have little issue bagging plenty of goals.
Wijnaldum in Pochettino’s team is certainly an intriguing idea, especially given the Holland international’s open regret at not having played under him sooner.
Wijnaldum hit a host of important goals for Liverpool, including his brace against Barcelona
‘I went to Mauricio Pochettino’s house before I spoke to Liverpool,’ Wijnaldum said in 2016. ‘After the meeting I told my agent, “I’m going to join Spurs”.’
‘Pochettino is a terrific manager, if you look at the way his teams play. I was impressed with what he had to say. I saw Spurs as being a very good fit for me – but we were unable to agree financial terms with them.
‘With hindsight, though, that was not a disaster. Pochettino was terrific but then Jurgen Klopp made me feel even more relaxed.’
Now, the two men can finally work together – and both will surely have their sights trained straight to the top.
Sportsmail predicted how PSG may shape up next season with new face Wijnaldum included