What Frenkie de Jong transfer would mean for Manchester United midfield rebuild – Richard Fay

If Manchester United are really going to prove they have changed this summer, then they need to get to work quickly. A move for Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong would certainly be a start.

Erik ten Hag has identified his former Ajax star as an ideal target as part of his initial rebuilding job at Old Trafford, and the Manchester Evening News understands United have contacted Barcelona about De Jong’s potential availability. Even through his (mild) struggles in Barcelona, De Jong remains one of the most exciting midfielders in European football, and securing the 25-year-old’s signature would certainly be a statement of intent for a side preparing for a season back in the Europa League.

Having already experienced Thursday night football this season, it is understandable why the Netherlands international might be cautious about a move to United, even if it means being reunited with managerial mentor Ten Hag.

READ MORE: Manchester United weighing up Frenkie de Jong transfer

Once again, selling a long-term vision will be crucial to any hope of a deal, and a key part of that sales pitch will be pinpointing exactly how they would make him fit in to a United side lacking any midfield backbone. De Jong has played as a defensive midfielder during his career, as well as a good chunk of matches as a ball-playing centre back, but it would be a huge ask for him to come to the Premier League as a designated holding midfielder.

“Normally midfielders only pass the ball but I dribble as well,” he told The Guardian back in 2018. “People say I take a lot of risks but I don’t think I do, because I don’t lose possession that much.”

A key reason why De Jong was adored by Ten Hag in Amsterdam was because of his independent thinking during matches and the confidence he showed in taking educated risks when he deemed necessary.

“When I am on the pitch I play on intuition but I think a lot about the game as well. With my intuition, it is not just that I receive the ball and always think ‘I’m going to do this’ straight away, even though it just happens that way sometimes.”

Frenkie de Jong of FC Barcelona

The Dutch international certainly has plenty to excite United fans and, having played for both Ajax and Barcelona, certainly wouldn’t be phased by the expectation that would follow a move to Old Trafford.

However, De Jong still seems like somewhat of a luxury, akin to buying a new sofa when they still have a leak in the roof above. He is an exceptional midfielder, but is he really the midfielder United need this summer?

De Jong’s most notable spell for Ajax came as part of a midfield pivot, with his silky skills the perfect compliment to Lasse Schöne’s steel alongside him.

During their run to the Champions League semi-finals back in 2019, De Jong partnered Schone at the base of the midfield for the famous 4-1 win against Real Madrid, both legs of the quarter-final triumph over Juventus, and both legs of the agonising exit to Tottenham.

This season, much of his playing time has come higher up the pitch alongside Pedri, with Sergio Busquests doing the dirty work at the base of midfield to allow the two technically gifted talents to shine.

For him to be a success in the physically demanding environment of top-flight English football, then it seems De Jong would need to be utilised as part of an axis once again, further highlighting the need for a defensive midfield anchor this summer no matter the outcome of their latest pursuit.

(L-R) Frenkie de Jong of Ajax, Donny van de Beek of Ajax with the trophy, dish during the Dutch Eredivisie match between De Graafschap Doetinchem and Ajax Amsterdam at De Vijverberg stadium on May 15, 2019 in Doetinchem, The Netherlands.
Frenkie de Jong starred alongside Donny van de Beek for Ajax. Could he join him in Manchester?

United have long needed a replacement for Nemanja Matic amid his dwindling powers and, with the Serbian set to leave for free in the coming weeks, there is now a real urgency to find someone who can replicate his frequent role as the beating heart of the side.

Ten Hag’s side are working on a deal for Kalvin Phillips and their hopes of signing the 26-year-old could be greatly boosted if Leeds are indeed relegated to the Championship at the end of the season.

While signing the combative Yorkshireman might not be well received by all United fans, he is very much in the mould of the type of player who is essential to their rebuilding in the years ahead.

De Jong would be an exciting acquisition too, but he can’t be the only midfielder they sign.

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