Frenkie de Jong at 25: Costing Ajax €1, Erik ten Hag’s solution and Man Utd transfer hope

Frenkie de Jong turns 25 on Thursday and should now be in the peak of his career but he could be set to wave goodbye to Barcelona this summer with Man Utd waiting in the wings for a big-money swoop

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  • 10:35, 12 May 2022
  • Updated11:08, 12 May 2022
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Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong celebrates his 25th birthday on Thursday and has already arrived at a bit of a crossroads in his career.

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The Barcelona star emerged as one of the brightest young players in world football ahead of his move to the Camp Nou, having shone for Ajax in the Eredivisie and on the Champions League stage. His performances at the Johan Cruyff Arena saw the Dutch giants bank a reported €86 million (£73.7m) for his services.

That represented a considerable profit for the Amsterdam powerhouses having reportedly signed him for just €1 from boyhood club Willem II back in the summer of 2015. The switch to Catalonia made De Jong one of the most expensive Dutch players in history – with compatriot and former Ajax teammate Matthijs de Ligt also securing a big-money switch to Juventus in the same summer.

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With the Blaugrana still looking for a viable successor to the likes of Andres Iniesta – and the indomitable figure of Johan Cruyff still playing a role in the club’s approach both on and off the pitch – all was set up for De Jong to succeed in Spain. It hasn’t quite panned out that way.

Despite having accumulated 138 appearances for Barcelona since his arrival in the summer of 2019, he has endured a frustrating time at the Camp Nou. Barcelona have only won one trophy in the years since de Jong was signed, the 2021 Copa del Rey representing their only success over the past few seasons.

Meanwhile, Barca are on track for their lowest La Liga points total since 2007 this term with just two matches of the season left to play – fierce rivals Real Madrid having long claimed the title for their own.

Frenkie De Jong could be on the way out of Barcelona this summer. (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

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It would be unfair to level criticism only at de Jong though. The club’s scattergun approach in the transfer market has resulted in a squad assembled almost at random.

Their ruthless approach to the managerial situation at the Camp Nou has also seen de Jong alongside a number of his teammates struggle to find real rhythm. Despite having only been a Barcelona player for under three years, the Dutchman has already played under five different managers.

Ernesto Valverde was the man to welcome De Jong to the club, with Quique Setien then being handed the reins only six months after his signing. Countryman Ronald Koeman looked to be the man to get the best out of the midfielder, only for him to be sacked after just over a year in charge.

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Sergi Barjuan took interim charge before current boss Xavi – ironically one of the club icons De Jong was tasked to emulate – was handed the opportunity to manage his former club. The 40-time Dutch international has been an all-but automatic pick under the current boss but that has not made his future any more certain.

Manchester United have been linked with a move for de Jong this summer with the Red Devils expected to make considerable overhauls to their squad after a hugely underwhelming season at Old Trafford. The Manchester Evening News have reported that United are ‘weighing up’ a potential £75m bid for midfielder with previous reports suggesting that a deal could be imminent.

That has been disputed but it is yet a deal that could go through. The Catalan giants still need to sell due to their woeful financial situation and De Jong represents a hugely valuable asset.

Frenkie de Jong enjoyed a fantastic relationship with incoming Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag. (Photo by Erwin Spek/Soccrates/Getty Images)

Whether the 25-year-old is interested in a switch to Manchester remains to be seen but a move to Old Trafford – and indeed a reunion with former boss Erik ten Hag could see De Jong get his career back on track. Despite having already been at Ajax for a season-and-a-half before the incoming Man Utd manager ’s arrival at the Johan Cruyff Arena, it was under the 52-year-old that De Jong emerged as one of the brightest stars in European football.

In Ten Hag’s first full season in Amsterdam, the midfielder played a key role in the side that lifted the Eredivisie, the Dutch Cup and also enjoyed a wonderful run to the Champions League semi-finals – only for Tottenham Hotspur’s Lucas Moura to halt their progress with a stunning hat-trick.

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Ten Hag has since never hidden his admiration of the midfielder. Speaking to UEFA.com of his compatriot’s talents, he said: "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."

And after years of United bosses routinely putting square pegs into round holes, with Donny van de Beek's struggles to find a true position well documented, Ten Hag already knows how to get the best out of his former charge. "The quality of your players decide how you will play, and with what system. We had to find a way to make Frenkie function in the best possible way. You saw his incredible talent, but where do we have to use him to get the best out of him and his talent? Eventually I decided to play with two 'No.6 players' on the pitch."

The renewal of that relationship might well be just the direction De Jong’s career trajectory needs with the now 25-year-old in danger of letting his crossroads moment see him become lost.

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