West Brom pulled off one of the surprises of the summer when they signed Grzegorz Krychowiak on loan from Paris Saint-Germain on deadline day. Will the Premier League’s big guns regret missing out on him? Nick Wright takes a look ahead of Monday Night Football.
You only have to look back to last summer to fully appreciate the improbability of Grzegorz Krychowiak’s move to West Brom. The Pole had just won his second consecutive Europa League title with Sevilla and helped his country to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. That July, he sealed a €30m transfer to Paris Saint-Germain as one of the most highly-rated defensive midfielders in Europe.
For Monchi, the transfer guru who enjoyed so much success as Sevilla’s director of football between 2000 and 2017, Krychowiak ranked among his best recruits. The Andalucian club turned a huge profit on a player they picked up from French side Reims for just €4.5m in 2014. On the pitch, his contribution was even more valuable.
Elegant on the ball and imposing without it, Krychowiak was the glue who held it all together for Sevilla. In his first season, he ranked among the top five midfielders in La Liga for both tackles and interceptions. At the end of it, he joined Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the team of the year.
Krychowiak was a consistent performer with an appetite for the big games. If there was a moment to sum him up, it was the stunning recovery tackle on Messi which halted a Barcelona counter-attack at the Sanchez Pizjuan in April 2015. Krychowiak made up 20 yards on the Argentine and somehow emerged with the ball at his feet. Sevilla, trailing 2-1 at the time, went on to snatch a draw.
Krychowiak’s second season was similarly impressive. There was interest from Arsenal and Liverpool as the summer drew nearer, but PSG seemed a logical choice. Here was a club with Champions League aspirations, in a country he knew well, under the stewardship of Unai Emery – the manager who had brought the best out of him at Sevilla.
In the end it proved to be a mistake. The 27-year-old was expected to go straight into PSG’s midfield, but opportunities were limited and his performances suffered. He drifted in and out of the team in the first half of the season and only started one game in the second – a 1-0 win over Nancy in which he was substituted at half-time.
“It was a big surprise that it didn’t work out – especially when you consider his relationship with Emery,” Polish football journalist and scout Michael Zachodny tells Sky Sports. “I was in Paris in September last year for an interview with Krychowiak and he was quite certain that he would get into the side.
“He said that he was ready to fight for his place, that he would get minutes, but you could see that he was not as good a fit for their style as someone like Thiago Motta. Given Motta’s experience and his relationships with Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot, he was still the main choice for Emery.”
Krychowiak effectively lost a season at PSG, but at a time when defensive midfield is an area of weakness for so many of the Premier League’s top clubs, it was still curious that the availability of a decorated destroyer with his best years ahead of him did not pique more interest.
“I was quite surprised that Chelsea, for example chose to sign Danny Drinkwater instead,” says Zachodny. “Krychowiak is a much better player, it’s as simple as that. We saw how important he can be, how much energy he has, how good a tackler he is both for Poland at Euro 2016 and for Sevilla. Last season might have put people off, but they should remember how good he was.”
Tony Pulis certainly hadn’t forgotten, describing him as an “excellent player” and a “winner” when the loan deal was confirmed. “I think it’s a coup for the club and I couldn’t be more pleased to get the chance to work with Grzegorz,” he added. “I kept being told it wouldn’t happen but I am really, really pleased that we have persuaded him to come to us.”
It is an unlikely collaboration but it could be mutually beneficial. From Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant at Stoke to Darren Fletcher and Jonny Evans at West Brom, Pulis has an impressive track record for reviving talented players who have fallen on difficult times.
Krychowiak already appears to be responding. Pulis insists the Pole is still some way from regaining his sharpness, but he certainly provided an effective shield for West Brom’s defence in their goalless draw with West Ham last weekend, breaking up play diligently and winning more duels than any of his team-mates. In possession, he already ranks top for passes per game (46).
“In Poland we all knew he would be able to handle the pressure of the Premier League, the physicality, the tempo and so on,” says Zachodny. “He is not the creative mind of a team, but he is a great destroyer whose energy can transmit to other players. He has always been a top pro and a leader for the national team. I’m sure it will be the same for West Brom.”
They are following Krychowiak’s progress closely back in Poland ahead of next summer’s World Cup, and the early indications suggest it might not be long until he is back to his old self. Against Arsenal on Monday Night Football, he has his first opportunity to show one of the Premier League’s big guns what they missed.
Watch Arsenal v West Brom live on Sky Sports Premier League HD from 7pm on Monday