More specifically, the Theatre of Dreams, because last night Barcelona reporter Gerard Romero (@gerardromero on Twitter) stated that there is a “95%” probability that Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong will have completed a move to Manchester United by the end of the month. It had been previously reported that de Jong was happy at Barcelona, but Romero explained that the Catalan club need to sell due to “financial reasons”, in which his sale could bring in €70-€80 million.
Due to the lack of strong links to the player before this, you could almost hear United fans around the world simultaneously exclaim, “Sorry, what?” when the news came in last night, in what was already a good evening for supporters, where the Under 18s brought home the FA Youth Cup in a 3-1 win against Nottingham Forest. In what was an entertaining game, a nearly sold-out Old Trafford saw a refreshingly hard-working performance from the entire squad, and two goals from exciting youngster Alejandro Garnacho.
As well as this, many fans watched Erik Ten Hag’s Ajax side wrap up the Eredivisie title in an emphatic 5-0 win in their last home game of the season, displaying attractive football that leaves us imagining what could be at Manchester United.
As one of the most highly rated central midfielders in world football at the moment, a deal for Frenkie De Jong was more of a pipe dream for most people than a realistic buy. Of course, you have to take every report with a pinch of salt, however fans have reason to be excited as Romero has a very good track record of news surrounding Barcelona. That said, Jonathan Shrager then reported that, “an agreement is not close”, but Barcelona may consider selling de Jong if they need finances this summer.
This morning, new reports are surfacing from the ever-reliable Fabrizio Romano that there has been contact between Manchester United and Barcelona over de Jong, but there is no full agreement yet. He also stated that “his priority is UCL”, but Ten Hag will push for the deal. It definitely seems like there are legs to this story, but whether or not the deal materialises remains to be seen.
So how good of a signing would Frenkie de Jong be this summer?
For those that don’t know, the 25 year-old already played under Ten Hag from 2017, until he left for the Blaugrana in 2019. This means he has experience in a Ten Hag system, and is much liked by the new boss. He doesn’t strictly fit into the number six role that the club so desperately needs though, with the new boss having said that “he is a wanderer, an adventurer… so if you put him on 6, he’s away too often, but you need to give him freedom.” So is he good enough to warrant spending this much when other positions are required?
In a summer where the club reportedly aim to buy up to 5 players, spending around £70 million on de Jong would take up a large portion of the transfer budget. This could leave around £100m to be spent on the remaining positions. However, Frenkie de Jong could revolutionise the midfield.
Being in the 95th percentile in progressive carries with 7.06 a game, Ten Hag wasn’t lying when he said de Jong likes to wander. De Jong is not a conventional defensive midfielder, so would need to be paired with a sitting player, as well as either a number 8 or attacking midfielder, giving rise to a midfield pairing of de Jong and Van de Beek- who both got to a Champions League Semi-Final under Ten Hag. As a progressor of the ball, he needs to be able to create and sustain attacks, which is a skill that he has, supported by his shot-creating-actions stats. Admittedly, this seems like a far-fetched metric to judge players with, but they show that he creates 2.81 a game, placing him in the 81st percentile. This indicates his ability to spot a chance when the opportunity presents itself.
When this doesn’t happen though, he is more than comfortable to keep the ball circulating well, with his pass completion rate at 90.3%. He is also good at receiving the ball, suggesting he’s a composed man to have in the middle of the park.
However, the need to pair him with a top defensive midfielder is vital, as his defensive statistics don’t reflect well. He makes only 1.39 tackles per game (9th percentile), however this could be due to him playing in a very possession-based side. This poses a problem for Manchester United, who struggle to maintain on-the-ball pressure on the opposition. Though this should improve under Erik Ten Hag, the time to adapt in the first season may provide some defensive challenges that de Jong may not be able to handle. As a result, someone else will be needed to help him with this (stay tuned for an article discussing defensive midfield options coming soon, in part 2 of the Summer Signings Mini-Series.)
To summarise, there is no doubt that Frenkie de Jong is a top player, and having worked with Ten Hag, it seems like buying him is a no brainer for Manchester United. There is concern over how much money the club should be spending on him, but an opportunity for a Europa League (potentially even Conference League) side to buy one of the best in his position should not be passed up- especially considering he is a marquee signing that actually fits the rebuild needed at Old Trafford.