Paris Saint-Germain get their 2021-22 UEFA Champions League campaign underway on Wednesday (on Paramount+) away at Club Brugge. The clash in Belgium is highly anticipated as it will very likely be the first ever time that the soccer world gets to see Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar on the same pitch, playing for the same team at the same time.
While Messi might snag all the headlines, Mauricio Pochettino possesses a heavily retooled squad from the group which fell short against Manchester City in last season’s semifinals and among the new faces is Netherlands international Georginio Wijnaldum who arrived at Parc des Princes on a free transfer from Liverpool this summer.
Speaking exclusively with Paramount+ ahead of the clash at Jan Breydel Stadium, the 30-year-old discussed his first few weeks as a PSG player, the “rollercoaster” summer which saw him land in the French capital while UEFA Euro 2020 was playing out and the French giants’ continental ambitions.
“The aim is to win as much as possible,” Wijnaldum told me. “PSG now have something that if they do not win the Champions League, the season is over. This is a team that must play for everything. The quality in the squad and the possibilities we have, you must play for everything — not just the UCL. Of course, it is also a competition we want to win.”
Wijnaldum left Liverpool this summer after five years at Anfield and six years in the Premier League as a whole and the man from Rotterdam could have landed at Camp Nou with Barcelona before PSG moved decisively to secure his signature as the first of several free agent deals including Messi, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Sergio Ramos.
“I do not really like these kinds of situations when your contract ends,” the ex-Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven player told said. “People are always speculating about whether you are staying or going. For me, it was like a rollercoaster. ‘Will I stay? Which country will I go to? Will I stay in the Premier League?’ It was quite new for me.
“Into the last few months, I did not know where I would go. Obviously, everyone knows now how it went between Barcelona and PSG. Basically, until the last week when I signed, I did not know where I would play.”
Wijnaldum is now settling in with his new teammates and has Messi, Mbappe and Neymar for company in training and on matchdays and the close-knit nature of Pochettino’s squad in the French capital has pleased the Dutchman and eased his transition into daily life in Rouge et Bleu.
“I have to say that the club and the players have helped me a lot to settle in,” he said. “I also have to admit that Paris is a city that I have visited before I came to play here which makes it easier to settle down. I do not really think about which role I have or how to try to behave.
“What I am doing is just being myself,” added Wijnaldum. “That is how I get on with the guys in the team. It is going well so far. I have to say that the team I joined is quite close with each other. We try to help each other.
“Almost every player already asked me if they can help with something. That is a good feeling for me. They make me feel like I can be myself. You need to be yourself and find a way that everyone can work together. That is what I am doing right now and until now, nobody has complained!”
Pochettino is clearly delighted to have Wijnaldum, a player he wanted while he was Tottenham Hotspur manager, at his disposal and was glowing in his recent assessment of the Oranje captain in Virgil van Dijk’s absence.
“He was captain of the Netherlands and won everything with Liverpool,” said the Argentine to UEFA in French. “He still has many years ahead of him. He can play in several positions without losing his competitive edge and understands the game very well. His technique is very good while he is also powerful.”
You can follow Wijnaldum and his new PSG teammates’ when they kick off against Brugge at 3:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, only on Paramount+.