Football Features

Georginio Wijnaldum: Is a “dream” move to Barcelona realistic for the Dutchman?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:30, 22 January 2021

With less than six months until his contract expires, Georginio Wijnaldum still hasn’t signed a new deal with Liverpool.

The Dutch midfielder has rejected contract offers from the Reds and two parties appear to be at a stand-off. Barcelona seem to be the favourites to land Wijnaldum and several outlets are now talking seriously about the midfielder heading there for free in the summer.

On the face of it the move makes sense; Wijnaldum is a proven international class footballer who would cost the cash-strapped Catalans no transfer fee, which is always a bonus. And Wijnaldum’s own affinity for the move makes sense given who is currently in charge.

“He’s 30 years old, the manager of Barcelona was his national team manager, who he gets on with really, really well,” said ex-Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy, adding: “we don’t know his aspirations as a young player. Maybe Barcelona is a dream he has always had.”

Georginio Wijnaldum

  • Age: 30
  • Club: Liverpool
  • Position: Central midfield
  • Football Index value: £0 (Sell)  £0.42 (Buy)
  • Premier League stats since 2016/17:  Minutes: 12,577 (second-highest at the club) | Touches: 8,931 (fourth-highest) | Passes: 7,196 (fourth-highest) | Tackles: 175 (sixth-highest) | Take-ons completed: 154 (fourth-highest)

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But does the move actually make sense? Sure, Wijnaldum could sign for Barcelona, he could sign for anyone he’s a very good player; but Barcelona have made a habit lately of signing players they either don’t need or ones that don’t fit the profile of their team. And that bloat is what has led to their colossal wage bill and their absolute failure to build a competitive squad since Neymar left in 2017.

Sure, Wijnaldum would be free, and yes Ronald Koeman pushed for the move in summer 2020 and would welcome him in summer 2021 even moreso; but what are the odds Koeman is even still coach by that time? Barcelona are not improving under him, even though he has taken some impressive steps to at least create a platform for them to improve. And with club elections likely to be concluded before the season ends, the chances a new administration would retain the Dutch coach is very low.

Moreover, the role Wijnaldum was intended to fill at Barcelona; a box-to-box role that sees him get forward and threaten goal i.e. the same role he played for Koeman with the Dutch national side, has ended up being filled out this season.

When Koeman originally wanted Wijnaldum, he was playing a 4-2-3-1 with Coutinho as a no. 10; so you can see how Wijnaldum would have displaced the Brazilian to play where he does for the Oranje. However now Barcelona are playing 4-3-3 his slot is less obvious.

Moreover, Barcelona seem to have realised that Frenkie de Jong is at his best when you let him run, which means he’s now a central midfielder rather than a defensive one. And the emergence of Pedri has all but filled the other central midfield role.

In other words the only position left in the Barcelona midfield where Wijnaldum could gain a foothold is defensive midfield. Wijnaldum could present himself as a more athletic and dynamic alternative to Sergio Busquets.

Sure, Wijnaldum is exceptionally careful with the ball. Since 2016/17 the only player to average more than 90% passing accuracy while playing more than 1,000 minutes is Wijnaldum himself who has completed 90.02% of his 7,196 passes.

But what marks Busquets out amongst other defensive midfielders is not his pass completion but own often he bisections lines of defence with quick passes played after just one or two touches. Is this something that Wijnaldum could learn to do? Probably. But it’s not his natural game, which would see him basically be a highly paid back-up to Frenkie de Jong. Plus Miralem Pjanic is a far-better 30-something alternative to Busquets as he also has the ability to drive the ball forward first-time.

And if all Barcelona want is someone to back Frenkie de Jong up then they have Sergi Roberto and Ilaix Moriba in their current squad; both of whom are younger and will be paid much less than Wijnaldum would end up being.

Essentially, the small window for Gini Wijnaldum moving to Barcelona has probably closed. Had they managed to close a deal when Koeman still had a lot of power in the summer, or if Koeman had done better to have enough clout to force it through in January or been such a runaway success that the chance of him staying another season even after the elections would be strong.

But Ronald Koeman has not been good. And Barcelona have greater squad needs that their meager to non-existent summer transfer budget will need to be stretched for (notably goalscorers in attack). So as much it might be Gini Wijnaldum’s dream to join Barcelona, and as much as the move makes sense on paper, it’s not a move that makes any kind of sense in the reality of the world.