In an interview published in today’s L’Équipe, midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum discussed his arrival at Paris Saint-Germain amid interest from other club’s in Europe’s elite this summer, as well as his ambitions in all competitions this season.
The Dutch international also touched on manager Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for him, his role in the PSG squad, and his relationship with former Lyon man Memphis Depay.
Les Parisiens kick off their Champions League campaign tomorrow night against Club Brugge, before facing Lyon on Sunday night in one of Ligue 1’s major clashes.
On whether he could have joined PSG in 2015
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Yes, it’s true. The initial contacts go back to 2014, after the World Cup. PSG wanted me to come but I wanted to stay at PSV Eindhoven for another year to try and become Dutch champion before leaving. I also wanted to stay with Memphis [Depay]. I was injured for a long time the previous season and I felt a bit indebted to the supporters. I stayed and we won the league. I was more open to the idea of leaving after that, and Paris had come back. But at that point I didn’t feel a real desire to sign me. I chose to sign for Newcastle, who really wanted me and made that clear to me.
On his reasons for joining now
Like I say, you go with your feeling. A few months ago, I wanted to stay at Liverpool, but without going into the details, I didn’t get the feeling they wanted to keep me. In these cases, you have to move forward. Barcelona came up. I was really happy because, since I was a kid, like with the majority of Dutch players, it’s been the club of my dreams, even if I have to admit that my idol was Zinédine Zidane, a Real Madrid player! I was keen on the idea of signing for Barcelona. But the negotiations lasted a while and eventually PSG came forward. Unlike 6 years ago, the club showed their desire to have me. It was time for me to see something else.
On interest from other clubs
There were discussions with Bayern Munich but they started further back. I also spoke with Inter Milan, who made a very good impression on me, the sort that as a player you want to have.
Why Paris, then?
Because of the project that was set out, and because I was told that I’d be a part of it. The management did everything to convince me. PSG went through the negotiations very quickly, and before we did so I spoke with Mauricio Pochettino and Leonardo. They assured me that they wanted to build one of the best teams in Europe.
On whether he was guaranteed a place as a key player
No, but you know, it’s up to me to do what I can do become a key player for the team. Certain clubs can make lots of promises, but if you’re not good you won’t play, and that makes sense. There will always be competition in a team like Paris, and it’s better that way. They didn’t so much promise me I would be a key player as explain to me how I would become an essential piece of the project with my experience and quality. That’s the kind of conversation I had with Leonardo, the manager, and the president [Nasser Al-Khelaifi] later on. They told me I had time to think about it but I agreed straight away. I knew this would be good for me.
On whether he spoke to Memphis about the move
Yes, Memphis knew everything!
On whether he could have joined Memphis at Barcelona
No, Memphis isn’t the kind of guy to go “I’m going here, follow me”. He told me to go with what I felt. I explained my situation with Barcelona, Paris and the other clubs to him. Of course it would be a dream to play in the same club together after being separated in 2015, but fate has decided otherwise. Then again, we play together for the national team. We have a great relationship, we call each other often. Whenever we have some free time, we try to meet up.
On what Pochettino told him this summer and in 2016, when he tried to sign him for Spurs
He didn’t say, “listen, this is how we’re going to play”, because I already knew how he works. Even if there’s always adjustments to make depending on your squad. Back in 2016, he set out how he manages, the style of play he likes, and so on. Because of that, this summer’s conversation was actually quite short. He asked me whether I was open to what Paris were offering, and spoke to me about the project and what they wanted to do.
I was transparent, I told them I’d been speaking to Barcelona but that an agreement hadn’t been reached. If I had signed something, I wouldn’t have gone back on it, but here that wasn’t the case.
On how Pochettino plans to use him
When we spoke in 2016, he talked about a match between Spurs and Newcastle where I played on the left wing and did well. He said, “I’m not a coach who wants to put their players in fixed positions. Of course there are baseline tasks, but I want you to feel free to bring everything you can do to the table”. That worked perfectly for me, I don’t like to be stuck in a fixed position.
On his first impressions of Ligue 1
I’ve found that teams were very defensive against us. They leave very few spaces in between the lines, so it’s very difficult to find the intervals. I was expecting it, but to be honest not at that point. I take it as a mark of respect on the part of these teams for PSG, and truthfully, when you look at our team, it makes sense that the opposition isn’t going all-out in attack. I think it’ll be different in the Champions League, we’ll be playing teams who will also want to dictate the game.
On his ambitions after winning everything at Liverpool
To be part of such an ambitious project is one of the reasons I signed. It’s even the most important. Considering all of the great players here, people are only talking about the Champions League. But I didn’t sign here to only win that competition, I came here to win it all.
Obviously, the Champions League is massive because the club hasn’t won it yet. It reminds me of Liverpool in the league – they hadn’t won since it changed its name to the Premier League and it became an obsession. I get the feeling that it’s the same here. But we shouldn’t ignore the other competitions. The Champions League is what, 13 matches? There’s more to a season than 13 matches. I want to be in a team that wins everything, like Guardiola’s Barcelona.