Barcelona’s Dutch international midfielder Frenkie de Jong, 25, is being strongly linked with a move away from the club to Manchester United, who are trying to sign him. The two clubs have been in contact but are still not close to doing a deal.
What type of player will United be signing if they do? We spoke to three people who have watched him regularly since he joined the Catalans from Ajax in 2019.
Michael Turner, Barca season ticket holder since 1993
"He’s one of the few beautiful players playing football. He’s got it all. But it’s funny what’s happened to him because most of the time when a big signing comes to Barcelona, after three touches they are immediately admired, as was the case with Suarez or Ronaldinho. Or they are put into that [Ousmane] Dembele bracket of 'you cost a lot of money but your touch isn’t perfect, you can’t control a ball'.
"With Frenkie de Jong, I think people in Camp Nou think he's a good or even great footballer but they’re a bit mystified as to why he hasn't been a huge success so far. I think that's down to the decay in the team, not down to him. But he does have something which is very much ‘him’: he likes to run with the ball which didn’t really fit in with how Barcelona were playing or did in the last few years. Maybe only Iniesta did that, but he was exceptional.
"So De Jong didn’t fit in with this ‘pass it, give it, pass it’ philosophy and none of the trainers we had knew how to teach him. He probably needed Ten Hag for that. He’s a beautiful footballer who has something in the way he turns when he receives the ball that is unique. Maybe De Bruyne is the nearest comparable player in the Premier League. I think De Bruyne has more physique, but that way of turning and running with the ball and not losing it is pretty unique in world football. I’d be very sorry to see him go but at the same time if we’ve not had a trainer who has been able to fit him in the scheme, he might be better off going to a trainer who can do that.
"It seemed the coaches wanted him to play the [Sergio] Busquets role and that was a huge mistake. That’s not where he should play. Busquets is a more static player, the ball flies around and Busquets doesn’t, whereas Frenkie is a dynamic footballer who combines in a different way. Busquets always does it first time, Frenkie would draw the ball and beat a man, that would be his modus operandi.
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"I think Frenkie would do well in the Premier League. He has two good feet, he can head it, play sweeper if he wanted to. He arrives in the box and he gets goals by finishing off moves that he started. There’s not an obvious flaw in his game, he’s a complete footballer.
"But if you’re not Johan Cruyff who can mould a team to your character and ability, then you need a manager to say ‘everyone in the team should look to get the ball to Frenkie and he’ll give it back and make us play’. That has not happened.
"Ronald Koeman didn’t ask that of him, while the first three months under Xavi were Frenkie’s best since joining Barca. It looks like he wants to go but the journalists I know tell me that he wants to stay. It’s all a mystery but he’s the complete footballer. The issue is how to get the best out of him, what players you put around him and how much freedom you give to a guy who is absolutely all over the pitch. And that’s not easy.
"It works at City because Guardiola has been giving that to people since he started, but if a team isn’t organised it can create anarchy, which it did at times at Barca. He was all over the pitch when he was supposed to be a central midfielder and the managers didn’t have a team in place to cover that."
Manolo Marquez, Catalan football manager
“Frankie de Jong is one of the most complete midfielders in Europe. He’s a box-to-box player who has great positioning. He arrives well from the second line towards the forwards, he has fantastic movement in the pockets of space and he’s able to pick up the ball from the central defenders and start to build from the back. Maybe in some moments when the team is not playing well, he loses concentration, but he remains one of the best midfielders in Europe.”
Josu Julian, Catalan football coach
“Frenkie has superb technical skills – as you would expect from a player who’d been at Ajax for so long. He carries the ball well from the centre, he passes through the lines and he dribbles. His timing to arrive in the box is perfect, but we’ve not seen enough of that at Camp Nou. He’s played in different positions including as a central defender, but he’s best in the middle. He’s elegant to watch, but it’s not always been easy for him at Barcelona. It’s a difficult club to arrive at and play well.
"Barca has a very clear methodology and if you’re not the type of player to fit into it then you can struggle. Frenkie struggled in his first season, but then everyone said: ‘It’s his first season, he’ll be better next year.’ And they said the same thing in his second season, and his third. It hasn’t really happened for him at Barca, despite his skills and that big transfer fee.
“As a person and a professional he’s flawless, he’s well educated and there are no issues, but he never truly made a connection with Barca fans like other players.”