Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez took to the microphone on the Camp Nou pitch before the annual pre-season curtain raiser, the Gamper, on Sunday night.
“We're starting a very exciting year,” said the Catalan. “We want to win titles this season to make the Culers happy.” A huge crowd of over 83,000 fans roared in approval on a hot August night. Behind him, his players smiled, limbered up or put their arms behind their backs. Except one, Frenkie de Jong, who stood with his arms crossed and his cheeks puffed out.
Xavi is going to play a big part in the Dutchman’s career this month. Barcelona, who have not yet been able to register several of their summer signings with La Liga, want to sell De Jong because they need the money.
Spanish clubs are subject to the strictest Financial Fair Play Rules in European football and given the history of Spanish clubs and finances that’s a positive, but Barcelona and Real Madrid almost always find a way to get what they want.
Barcelona can help themselves by cashing in on the one player who will bring the most money in, the 25-year-old midfielder with whom they have a deal in principle to sell to Manchester United. The player has not agreed to this.
De Jong started on the bench in the Joan Gamper Trophy pre-season clash against Mexican side Pumas, with Xavi going for Sergio Busquets, Gavi and Pedri in midfield.
The National understands that those three Spaniards are his preferred choices, the ones he intends to start when their season opens on Saturday at Camp Nou against Rayo Vallecano.
Xavi, who prefers these midfielders as positional players, not runners as he sees De Jong, has also been impressed by new midfield signing Kessie who came from AC Milan. De Jong is used to being a first-choice starter.
On Sunday, Kessie and De Jong both came on at half time with their side leading 4-0 against the Mexicans of Pumas. Kessie set up Aubameyang for the fifth, while De Jong, who played superbly, scored the last in the 6-0 win. Barca fans sang his name, though not with the intensity they sang for new signing Robert Lewandowski or cult hero Ronald Araujo.
While Barcelona want to sell De Jong, he has so far shown no indication that he wants to leave. He knows of interest from Manchester United and Chelsea and has told at least two people that he would prefer Chelsea and London over United and Manchester, yet while Chelsea have shown interest in the player, they have made no offer for him.
Barcelona ratings v Pumas
United have agreed fees with Barcelona, with the club’s leading executives Richard Arnold and John Murtough having made several visits to Barcelona in recent months. They have met several Barcelona counterparts including the club president, Joan Laporta.
Relations between Barcelona and Chelsea are not ideal since the two have gone for several of the same players in this close season.
Defender Jules Kounde had agreed to join Chelsea, but held out for a move to Barcelona. Raphinha was another player who Chelsea thought they had signed, but, again, Barcelona knew the Brazilian would prefer to join them and asked him to wait, which he did. Leeds United, who sold the Brazilian, had to go back to Chelsea and explain that the player preferred Barcelona.
Cezar Azpilicueta was also set to join Barcelona but changed his mind and signed another two-year contract with Chelsea. Xavi Hernandez had been keen to sign the 32-year-old as a free agent, but Xavi’s wishes have come true for a lot of the players he wanted. Barcelona also firmly understand that Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso wants to join the club and return to Spain.
Xavi is happy with his squad and thinks that Barcelona will be able to register the players they’ve signed, but knows there will be more outgoings. Xavi played De Jong as an uncustomary central defender in some pre-season games, but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be a central defender for Barcelona this season.
Manchester United will hike up the pressure to try to sign De Jong in this transfer window. The lines of communication between United, De Jong’s agent and Barca have always been open. Even when there have been public statements about De Jong not being for sale or him not wanting to move to England’s biggest club, United have been assured that the deal is not dead.
United would not have wasted so much energy into the deal if they didn’t think it could be done. The Catalans think that United have behaved in the correct manner in their dealings with the club.
United may be one of the biggest clubs in the world, but they can’t offer Champions League football this season. Simply, United, who finished sixth last season, are not as attractive to players as Barcelona and De Jong would have to contemplate what he’d consider to be a step down.
He’d also need to sort out his deferred wages from Barcelona, though the Catalans refute suggestions that any of their players will go unpaid from any deferred wages. The Athletic also reported that Barcelona have threatened legal action over his contract.
De Jong, who has always maintained that he is happy playing for Barcelona and that he and his partner are happy living just south of the city by the Mediterranean where they’ve bought a home, is entitled to do nothing. He has a contract signed in good faith. It’s not his fault Barcelona have financial problems.
De Jong has always been United’s number one target – that is the player who Erik Ten Hag wants most. He sees him as vital to the way he wants his team to play. After Sunday’s 1-2 home defeat to Brighton where United’s midfield was criticised as not being good enough by former captain Roy Keane, the pressure only increases. United do have other options if the De Jong deal is not done.
One source told The National: “If Frenkie doesn’t start in games this month – and I don’t think he will - then he will open his eyes to a move. He’ll have to. He’s not going to want to sit on the bench and feel unwanted. It’s up to United or Chelsea or whoever to convince the player that he should join their club.”
Xavi, who now feels Barca have the best attack in Europe, will make his selection decision based on how wants his team to play. He has done this since he returned to the club.
He continued to pick Ousmane Dembele even when the fans and media turned on the player for refusing to sign a new contract. Xavi, who started Dembele against Pumas, was correct in his judgement and Dembele signed a new contract to stay at the club until 2024. De Jong already has a contract until 2026 – and that’s the problem for Barca’s finances.
For United, there are parallels with their chase for another Barca midfielder Cesc Fabregas in 2013, though Barca were not under the same pressure to sell then as they are now.
The Catalan denied that he was going anywhere but in private spoke twice to the then new United manager David Moyes where he explained that he wasn’t going to push for a move, but that if he didn’t start the first games of the season, he would move. He did start, and set up two goals.
The move was dead and United were left scrambling with the clock ticking down. The situation is different now since Barcelona really want the money from selling De Jong. The situation isn’t ideal for any of the parties but a solution will have to be sorted soon and United’s interest in signing De Jong is not wavering.