Transfer Talk: De Jong can usher United into a new era under Ten Hag
Erik ten Hag is still looking for his first signing as Manchester United boss — and he hopes the capture of Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong will get him up and running.
The Barcelona ace, 25, is believed to be a top priority for the Red Devils as the new manager looks to reshape things in the centre of the park.
We look at what he will bring to United if he makes the switch to Old Trafford from Catalonia.
Fits the mould
After a dismal 2021-22 campaign for United, Ten Hag arrived for his first day of pre-season today knowing there is plenty of work to be done.
Bringing in players he knows and trusts to quickly implement his philosophy could be key and in De Jong, he would have exactly that.
The Netherlands international rose to stardom working under Ten Hag at Ajax, with a particularly impressive 2018-19 campaign earning his £64million to Barca the following summer.
The then 22-year-old was the heartbeat of De Godenzonen’s stunning run to the Champions League semi-finals, going toe-to-toe with the likes of Bayern Munich, Juventus and Real Madrid on their way.
His exceptional technical ability and passing range saw him heralded as one of the most exciting midfielders in Europe at the time.
With Ten Hag likely to deploy a similarly expansive and free-flowing approach with the Red Devils, it is no surprise to see him turn to a man he knows well to help with that transition.
The 52-year-old has been effusive in his praise for his reported target, previously saying: "He is always calm and always has the solution.
"He scans so well that he always knows how to go forward. You can hardly put him under pressure — that is such a great gift."
United’s midfield options are currently looking slightly threadbare following the departures of Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Nemanja Matic during the off-season.
With Donny van de Beek spending the second half of the 2021-22 campaign on loan at Everton, Scott McTominay and Fred were the go-to men in the deep-lying midfielder positions.
De Jong beats the United pair for passes completed (54.16) and final third passes completed per 90 minutes (16.29), while his superior 1.85 take-ons show he has the dynamism the others lack.
It is the defensive side of the game in which De Jong falls short, with his tackles per 90 total of 0.69 much lower than both Fred’s (1.19) and McTominay’s (1.24).
That suggests that in De Jong, United would be getting a player who likes to be involved in the attacking build-up phases and would likely need a more defensive option to play alongside him, much like the job Sergio Busquets does at Barca.
While De Jong has by no means been a failure at the Camp Nou, he is at something of a crossroads at the club.
The Netherlands international featured 46 times in all competitions under Blaugrana boss Xavi last term but the pressure to offload players at the cash-strapped club remains.
With the Spaniard ushering a new era of exciting academy graduates and a £75m price tag reported for De Jong, their 2019 signing could well be the one who is moved on in order to balance the books.
That is not to say De Jong is looking to conjure a move away himself.
Speaking on United’s interest while on international duty, De Jong said: "You are always flattered when teams show interest in you as a player.
"But I think I am at the biggest club in the world at the moment, I feel fine there, so no news."
It looks as though it could be out of hands, however, and a reunion with a coach who knows how to get the best out of him would surely represent one of the more attractive alternative destinations.
Work to be done
Having already become one of the transfer sagas of the summer, it looks set to be one that rumbles on a little longer.
That £75m price tag Barca are reportedly holding out for presents a stumbling block for United, who are believed to have only a £120m budget for transfers this summer.
With other areas of the squad also in desperate need of addressing, Red Devils chiefs may try to haggle that fee down while cheaper options could also be considered.
But the intense speculation over this move is a sign of how Ten Hag sees De Jong as his standout choice.
Backing their new boss by stumping up the hefty fee may be what is needed to give him the best possible chance to succeed at Old Trafford.