Ronald Koeman and new president Joan Laporta will map out Barcelona’s future during the international break, and going Dutch would be in keeping with Camp Nou tradition.
The club which has been a magnet to Netherlands greats of the past may see more Oranje stars arriving, with Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum said to be a prime target.
According to the Sunday Times, Wijnaldum has a pre-contract agreement to move to Barcelona when his Anfield deal expires at the end of the season.
Reuniting with former national team coach Koeman would hold obvious appeal to Wijnaldum, who has been circumspect about his Liverpool future.
But what would Wijnaldum bring to a team already in the hunt for a domestic double? At the age of 30, would this signing make sense for Barca?
What options do Barcelona already have?
It may not be a vintage midfield of the type Pep Guardiola was blessed with, Sergio Busquets being the last survivor of that era in the centre of the pitch, but Barca are not badly off for talent.
Busquets and Miralem Pjanic bring the experience, Pedri the youthful exuberance and Frenkie de Jong is proven quality as he approaches his mid-20s.
They have the attacking option of Philippe Coutinho – who has been out injured since December – while Riqui Puig is a talent who Koeman appears unsure about.
Busquets and De Jong look a strong midfield pair, covering plenty of the pitch, with De Jong the likelier to roam away from the central channel.
What difference would Wijnaldum make?
At the age of 30, ‘Gini’ would not be bringing down the average age, even though that must surely soon become a priority for Koeman.
The head coach knows all about Wijnaldum’s game from their time together in the Dutch national set-up, so there is a trust factor there, and to get an international player on a free transfer, albeit with high wages, could be seen as a good deal.
Yet to delve into this season’s data, there appear to be very few areas where Wijnaldum excels above Barcelona’s current crop.
Three goals and zero assists in 40 matches from Wijnaldum pales against what Pedri (three goals, six assists) and De Jong (six goals, five assists) have achieved from a similar number of games; however, it puts him ahead of Busquets (no goals, two assists) and Pjanic (no goals, no assists).
Wijnaldum’s 18 chances created is fewer than what each member of that Barcelona quartet has achieved (Pedri 49, De Jong 38, Busquets 30, Pjanic 20), and although he is considered strong in the air, his 36 aerial battles won is bettered by De Jong and Busquets (both 45).
The former Newcastle United and PSV man has taken more shots (31) than any of that Barca midfield four, with Pedri (27) leading the way among those Blaugrana players, but he has too often failed to be clinical.
There are defensive qualities to Wijnaldum’s game, and he has made 201 ball recoveries for Liverpool. Busquets (203), De Jong (234) and Pedri (173) suggest Barca are already handily equipped on that front.
If Wijnaldum is being signed as a replacement – say, if Pjanic is moved on to bring in such much-needed funds – then there could be merit in his arrival.
Otherwise, he looks to be just extra midfield stock.
Tackling a big issue
Wijnaldum’s tackle success rate has nosedived in the 2020-21 season, having already been on a gradual decline during his career in England.
During his year at Newcastle in the 2015-16 season, Wijnaldum won 84.21 per cent of his tackles, and after three seasons of 60-plus percentage success with Liverpool, his rate dipped to 53.19 last term, though in a championship-winning campaign that hardly felt significant.
This season, however, it has crashed to 29.63 per cent, with his performance indicative of Liverpool’s lame follow-up to their Premier League title triumph.
Such a rate would not cut it at Barca, where Puig (37.5 per cent) is the only midfielder with tackling success under 50 per cent this season. Busquets (58.46 per cent), De Jong (58.33) and Pedri (57.89) are the engine room players who have done most of the heavy lifting, setting the sort of standard any newcomer must expect to achieve.
Koeman favourite he may be, but Wijnaldum, a Champions League and Premier League winner with Liverpool, cannot live off past glories.
Barcelona will need an upswing to follow that downswing. After all, when Koeman said he wanted to bring a lad in, he really meant a Gini with bottle.
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