‘Some people are still skeptical’ – Reggae Girlz coach hopes World Cup 2 qualification will lead to growth and adoption of women’s football


Erik ten Hag is about to have his man, or so it seems.

With Tyrell Malacia signing last week and deals for Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez looking set to close, it’s clear that Manchester United’s priority transfer target has been Frenkie de Jong.

Star of Ten Hag’s Ajax side, De Jong was tipped to help usher the Barcelona midfielder into the post-Xavi and Andres Iniesta era when he replaced Amsterdam with Catalonia in 2019.

Yet three years later United reportedly agreed a fee of around £63m (€75m) with Barcelona for the Netherlands international, with an additional £8.5m (€10m) ) additional also possible.

There is, however, a small problem to solve: De Jong needs convincing to move from Barcelona to Manchester.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta told reporters on July 2 that De Jong had indicated he wanted to stay at the club but then suggested that if the Dutchman granted his wish he would have to take a pay cut.

The fact that Laporta thinks he should negotiate a pay cut with a player who signed a lucrative contract just three years ago illustrates where Barca went wrong, and why it’s hard to judge De’s time fairly. Jong at Camp Nou, where he worked under four coaches – Ernesto Valverde, Quique Setien, Ronald Koeman and Xavi.

The latter was keen to keep the midfielder, but with Barca signing Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen on free transfers and agreeing a deal with Leeds United for Raphinha – not to mention handing Ousmane Dembele a new contract – a big sale is apparently necessary. .

While it’s still possible that this deal could fall through, if De Jong sticks to his guns, it looks increasingly likely he’ll be lining up at Old Trafford next season. So what will he bring to United that he needs?

Did it live up to the hype?

De Jong entered a Barca side that had crumbled from a humiliating Champions League semi-final loss to Liverpool and was reeling from the implosion.

Valverde’s side blew a 3-0 aggregate lead in that tie, and truly the coach never recovered. Still, Barca spent €75m to add stardust to their midfield and support the coach.

On paper, De Jong is Barça’s ideal player, the embodiment of total football; an elegant runner, skilled in possession and a brilliant passer, while he is versatile enough to play in any midfield role or even in the center of defence.

In his three seasons at Camp Nou, only Sergio Busquets (144) has made more appearances than his 140, so fitting De Jong into the squad hasn’t been a problem, while his creativity has certainly come to the fore. foreground, with his 149 chances created behind only Lionel Messi (233) and Jordi Alba (207).

Last season, he created 40 chances in 32 La Liga games.

He ranks fifth in assists (15) over the last three seasons, but it should be noted that Messi and Antoine Griezmann, who are ahead of him in this metric, left the club in 2021.

De Jong’s 10,158 touches put him third at Barca for the same period, with his 645 duels won also third, only Messi (800) and Busquets (814) winning more.

Under Ten Hag, De Jong could well be employed as a deep-lying playmaker as he was often used for Ajax. At Barca, Busquets has remained the midfield metronome, topping the charts for passes attempted (10,799) and completed (9,676), although De Jong boasts better accuracy than the Blaugrana stalwart (91.8). at 89.6).

But for all his quality, De Jong hasn’t been able to transform Barca’s midfield, with Pedri and Gavi the new kids on the block. It was this duo who apparently seized the initiative the most, with Busquets still trusting his former team-mate Xavi.

A marked improvement…

De Jong may not have been able to become the superstar many are predicting at Barca, but at 25 he has plenty in the tank and, truth be told, is walking around United’s midfield.

It has been a weak point for several seasons, despite the huge investment of Paul Pogba, Fred and Bruno Fernandes.

While Fernandes has, of course, had huge success in England, Pogba managed only flashes of brilliance during his second six-year stint at Old Trafford and has now left on a free, while neither Fred nor Scott McTominay doesn’t seem natural for Ten Hag. fluid system based on possession.

De Jong fits this bill with aplomb and is a huge step up from what United have in this area.

With the imminent arrival of Eriksen to complement Fernandes as a creator, De Jong could take on the role of United’s midfield general from a deeper position, whether playing in front of the defense in a 4 -3-3, or as part of a double-pivot in a 4-2-3-1 form, as was employed in this week’s 4-0 friendly win over Liverpool.

Last season alone, De Jong completed more passes – 2,160 – than any United midfielder, with only Fernandes (1,849) coming close. He has also shown himself to be consistently available, playing 47 times, 20 more than Pogba, whom he effectively replaces.

Perhaps surprisingly, only United midfielders Fred (372) and Fernandes (841) lost possession more times, excluding hooves, than De Jong (359) last season.

However, De Jong is adept at winning possession, having made 226 digs, and the fact that he has lost so much possession seems to be largely down to the fact that he has attempted so many more passes than his United counterparts.

De Jong’s dribbling ability adds another dimension to United’s attack, with his prowess at carrying the ball up a useful tool during transition. His 77.4 per cent dribbling success rate is higher than any regular United midfielder last season except Matic, who attempted just 27 dribbles. Opta’s data shows that De Jong took 279 progressive balls in La Liga last season. By comparison, Fred has managed 91 in the Premier League, McTominay mustering 182 and Pogba 125.

So it’s no surprise that Ten Hag sees De Jong as a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Completing this deal would be a statement of intent and should provide an ideal platform for United to be shaped in the image of their new manager.

Although doubts remain further up the pitch, with the uncertainty surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo’s future, United’s midfield needed a major overhaul – De Jong delivers just that.


Comments are closed.