Barcelona might have to look for alternatives for Georginio Wijnaldum. Here are three options for the Catalans to target in place of the Liverpool star.
The winds of change are blowing at Barcelona. Just a few months ago, there was a sense of doom and gloom around Camp Nou, what with the brewing financial crisis and a humiliating defeat to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League. The start to life under Ronald Koeman was not too bright either.
The turn of the year, though, has gradually brought about a sense of optimism at Barcelona. The shadow of disgraced former president Josep Maria Bartomeu is starting to disappear, with Joan Laporta now at the helm of the club. Koeman, too, is starting to win over fans thanks to a refreshing brand of football that has seen the Blaugrana become the form team in La Liga.
They might have bowed out of the UEFA Champions League at the Round of 16 stages, but there is a feeling that they could take the title race in the league right down the wire, while they are also in the Copa del Rey final, scheduled to take place next month. As the season reaches its climactic end, the onus is also on Barcelona to start finalising their plans for the summer transfer window.
To that end, they have been touted to be in the market scouring for reinforcements for several departments, midfield being one of them. And, the priority target for Barcelona is believed to be Georginio Wijnaldum, with certain reports even claiming that they have already reached a pre-contract agreement with the Dutchman over a summer move.
Those suggestions have since been quashed by Barcelona, although Wijnaldum still remains high on their wishlist, as per the rumour mill. Nevertheless, in a scenario wherein the Dutch midfielder does not arrive at Camp Nou in the summer, the Blaugrana will need to keep their options open for potential alternatives. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle lists three such options that they could target this coming summer.
A player who has long been rumoured to be eager to return to Spain, and someone who fits the Barcelona ideology quite well. Fabian Ruiz will not simply be a viable alternative for Wijnaldum, but, in fact, an upgrade of an option, considering his best years are still ahead of him.
The Spanish international brings the work-rate and energy, that is typical of Wijnaldum, to the plate, which fits in well with the system that Ronald Koeman has implemented at Barcelona. In addition, he also provides a creative impetus that the Dutch international does not.
The second quality makes Ruiz the perfect foil for players like Frenkie de Jong and Pedri, with his creative abilities also theoretically enabling Koeman to deploy de Jong in a deeper role in midfield, where he has the potential to thrive as the true heir to Sergio Busquets, who is fast approaching the end of his glittering career.
Barcelona, though, will have to battle Real Madrid in pursuit of the Spaniard, with a number of other big-name suitors also keen on signing him. The good news, however, is that Ruiz could potentially come at a cut-price deal – even though he will not be a free transfer like Wijnaldum – another factor that could appeal to Barcelona. All in all, the most ideal alternative for the Catalans to consider.
This option might be a little left-field as compared to someone like Fabian Ruiz, seeing as he has not really been linked as a Barcelona target, perhaps ever. Having said that, if there is one player who could be a like-for-like alternative for Wijnaldum for the La Liga heavyweights to consider, it is Franck Kessie.
Here is a player who has gradually progressed significantly in the last few years to not only become a talismanic figure for AC Milan but also establish himself as one of the very best within Serie A. The Ivorian has the ability to be an enforcer in midfield, but he also comes with the mobility that is needed to flourish in the middle of the park for Barcelona.
At the same time, his prowess on the ball can potentially help him reprise the role of a ball carrier in midfield, meaning he could essay different responsibilities as per the demands of the team. In essence, he can be a machine in midfield around whom the more slick players could operate, giving Barcelona a lot of dynamism in the centre of the pitch.
Kessie’s valuation, though, has been mooted to be around the €50 million mark, and shelling out such a sum might well be a tall order for Barcelona as things stand, although, with a squad overhaul in the offing, it will be interesting to see if the Catalans can raise enough funds to meet his valuation in the summer. An option worth considering, though.
Finally, the player who could revitalise the midfield to perfection, though his pursuit could be a tad bit complicated. Saul Niguez is someone who has been entrenched in La Liga football for years now and has the ability to fill in at different positions in midfield, thereby making him just the kind of a versatile star that the Barcelona squad could do with.
The Spanish international could well take over from Frenkie de Jong in the box-to-box midfield role or compete with Sergio Busquets to sit at the base of the midfield before the veteran finally calls it a day. Like Kessie, the 26-year-old can carry the ball forward with elan while also having the ability to read the game and shut out the opposition build-ups efficiently.
However, Barcelona’s awkward relationship with Atletico Madrid following Antoine Griezmann’s infamous move in the summer of 2019 means that even if they do make a move for Saul, the other suitors could well be in with a better shot at securing his services, particularly because Barcelona do not quite have the means to trigger his hefty release clause.
So, while Saul has the qualities to fit in Ronald Koeman’s system almost perfectly, the fact that they could be facing a losing battle means that it might be prudent to focus on a move for Fabian Ruiz or Franck Kessie instead. In a purely utopian sense, however, Saul would be the best option for Barcelona to consider.