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Why Frenkie De Jong is Manchester United’s everything this summer

The latest development in Manchester United’s summer-long quest to sign Frenkie De Jong from Barcelona is that the player has informed both parties, via his agent, that he has no intention of leaving. And so we return to the very start of this drawn-out saga that has seen the Red Devils doing all the chasing while the Catalan giants commit to a tricky balancing act in claiming publicly they want to keep their midfield star, all the while endeavouring to facilitate the move because they are financially hamstrung and need the money.

The player meanwhile has consistently stated from the get-go that he desires Champions League football this season, that him and his wife-to-be are happy in Catalonia, and furthermore he would very much appreciate it if Barcelona paid him the wages he is owed.

All told, it feels somewhat messy. At the very least it is reminiscent of the Penrose Steps, the mind-bending depiction of a staircase that somehow forms a continuous loop.


Regardless, what follows really isn’t about where De Jong plays his football in 2022/23. If you’d like further updates on the never-ending impasse there’s a multitude of articles elsewhere, mostly written by individuals who are essentially rehashing old news or making stuff up.

Instead, what most intrigues amidst the avalanche of clickbait is precisely why Manchester United have invested so much of their time and energy across this transfer window pursuing a player who clearly doesn’t want to apply his particular skill-set at Old Trafford. Why willingly indulge in a self-defeating infatuation that might very well amount to an absurd folly?

First off, a caveat and an important one, because almost certainly at some point during this whole protracted rigmarole United have had genuine cause to believe that De Jong could be lured to the Premier League. In recent seasons it has become increasingly apparent that the club’s hierarchy are prone to making bad decisions in the transfer market but they are not stupid, nor gullible people. They’re really not.

Yet still, there is an argument to be made that placing such great emphasis on securing the Dutch talent has been counter-productive, in effect putting all their eggs in one basket. It is now mid-July, meaning a mere six weeks remain of this transfer window, and they still feel no closer to agreeing on a deal to their opening state of play, way back in May. And should they indeed fail in their bid to land De Jong, do they have an Option B they can swiftly complete as the deadline approaches? That feels unlikely.

If the 25-year-old stays in Barcelona then a top six club with a new manager, that is desperately wanting to begin a new chapter and head in a new direction after years of turmoil and struggle, will kick-off their campaign with the same midfield that has repeatedly failed them season on season. No, worse, it will be an engine room seriously depleted of numbers with Mata, Matic and Pogba now gone. The imminent arrival of Christian Eriksen will add some ingenuity and guile for sure, but the Dane is not a miracle worker.

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So, is De Jong worth this enormous risk? Talent-wise he emphatically is, being a thoroughly modern incarnation of a box-to-boxer and furthermore blessed with intelligence and presence that has him routinely influence proceedings on stages big or small. Whether it’s in the heady environs of Camp Nou or on international duty with Holland, a talent who has been compared to Cruyff and Xavi – and even deemed to be a heightened mix of both – has repeatedly displayed his unerring ability to retain possession in tight spaces, sometimes dribbling out of danger, other times picking out a sensible pass, immune to pressure. In this regard, he would be a priceless asset for a team that has too often hopelessly flailed against a well-organised high press.

Yet there is infinitely more to De Jong’s game than his ability to control an errant pass from Harry Maguire and get United up the pitch. As a creative in the midfield third, the former Ajax prodigy can spray passes short or long, accurate to the nearest millimetre. In attacking areas he possesses the nous and vision to trouble a deep defensive block, a common occurrence at Old Trafford even if the place has lost its fear factor in recent years.

From a tactical standpoint too, the Barca man is a perfect fit, his versatility resulting in him dominating phases of play in a variety of systems but really it’s as part of a double-pivot, with license to get forward, that he truly excels, ideally within a 4-2-3-1 set-up that Erik Ten Hag typically favours.

And here we get to the real crux of the matter, the consideration that almost trumps even De Jong’s elite calibre. Ten Hag knows the player and knows him well from their days at Ajax. He knows how to get the best out of him and, most crucially of all, the team United’s new coach envisions has Frenkie De Jong right at the heart of it. He is to be its cornerstone. An example to others.

That’s why Manchester United have embarked on a single-minded pursuit this summer, perhaps at the expense of common sense. And that’s why the player would be perfect and everything to the club’s new dawn and possibly bright future.

All of which makes it a real shame that he most probably won’t come.

Read – 10 tips to help you master Fantasy Premier League

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