If Manchester United sign Frenkie de Jong he will be a reluctant recruit having told Barcelona he does not want to leave the club this summer.
On the bright side they’ll be getting a player who is only 25, who has worked with Erik ten Hag at Ajax, and has shown enough in three years at Barcelona to suggest he can yet become one of Europe’s top midfielders.
Xavi wants him to stay and there can be few more convincing votes of confidence for the Dutch international. When De Jong reacted badly to being taken off against Rayo Vallecano last month he went straight down the tunnel without acknowledging his manager but the two had a clear-the-air meeting several days later, with Xavi telling him he had not lost confidence in him and wanted him at the club next season.
Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong has emerged as a key target for Manchester United
Incoming United boss Erik ten Hag is reportedly keen on reuniting with the Dutch star
That has been Xavi’s message to the Barcelona directors too but the club need to bring in four times as much as they spend this summer because of La Liga’s spending limits and the club see him as the one player they can move on for a big fee.
De Jong earns £8.5million (€10million) net a season at Barcelona and they see getting him off the wage bill and bringing in a transfer fee optimistically set at £59.6m (€70m) – they paid €75m plus €11m in add-ons in 2019 – as a way to free up funds this summer.
It’s not just Xavi’s faith in him that is making De Jong want to stay. He has settled in Barcelona with partner Mikky Kiemeney and they have just moved home. De Jong is also unhappy about the prospect of not playing in the Champions League next season.
Barcelona manager Xavi wants to keep De Jong but could face a battle to retain his services
He has a contract to 2026 but what could change his mind is the anger being stoked up by feelings that having at times been scapegoated for Barcelona’s poor performances, he is now being forced out to balance the books.
Storming off down the tunnel against Rayo was a demonstration of that frustration. The complaint from his critics at Barcelona is that he has not shown the character to become a leader on the pitch and in the dressing room – something his elevated fee should have guaranteed.
The counter argument is that his role in the team has never been clear and that it’s hard for him to step up to leadership when stalwarts of the club’s golden era, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique, remain.
De Jong has endured a frustrating time in a Barca shirt and has struggled to nail down his place
De Jong was tipped as the long-term replacement for Sergio Busquets in Barca’s midfield
De Jong has also fallen between two positions without ever making either his own. When he arrived there was a suggestion that he could be Busquets’ long term replacement in holding midfield but the Spain international’s level has not wavered, and in the few opportunities De Jong had his fondness for bombing forward meant he lacked the discipline to play what is arguably the most important position in Barcelona’s system.
That has left him contesting one of the two lateral midfield berths either side of Busquets and there he has had to compete with the new darling of the Camp Nou, Pedri, and the effervescent Gavi, who also has the club’s support in his pocket. It’s hard to be popular in comparison.
He remains a very complete midfielder capable of breaking lines, running beyond defences, or playing the passes to others who have done so. He brings energy to midfield and while some say he lacks a competitive edge, coaches who picked him to play as a centre back for Ajax and Holland in times of emergency never saw that deficiency.
Manchester City wanted him before Barcelona signed him in 2019 and Bayern Munich could yet move for him this summer. He has had and still has big suitors and if Barcelona succeed in forcing him out he will be fired up to prove his former club wrong.
With Ten Hag there to make sure it works for him, he could succeed at Manchester United. But first he will need to be convinced that this is the right time for him to leave the Camp Nou.
Ten Hag will be in the market for a midfielder in the summer and De Jong would fit the bill