If De Jong to Manchester United is ‘underwhelming’, who will satisfy Stan and co?

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

If Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United is ‘underwhelming’, will it even be possible to manage expectations at the club this summer?

 

The 2018/19 season was quite the year for Frenkie de Jong. In the Champions League, his Ajax team unexpectedly reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and were only eliminated at the death in the second leg. Meanwhile at home, his team won the Eredivisie and the KNVB Cup, while individual honours flowed like wine. At home, he was the Eredivisie Player of the Month twice and the league’s Player of the Year, and won the Johann Cruyff Trophy as the overall Dutch Player of the Year, while he was also the Champions League midfielder of the season, and was included in no fewer than six other teams of the year or season.

Small wonder Barcelona came calling. By the start of 2019, De Jong’s contract in Catalunya had already been confirmed, and at the start of July he was duly moved on as part of the break-up of that highly successful team. In April of that year, coach Erik ten Hag told the press that “the club’s leadership and I are of the same opinion that we must have the potential to try and achieve again what we did this season”. But by August, De Jong himself was expressing ‘sadness’ over the break-up of the team, as player after player went on to pastures new.

It turned out that De Jong’s timing couldn’t have been much worse. He may have moved to Camp Nou with dreams of emulating Johann Cruyff or the other Dutch players who lit up that particular stadium, but since arriving at Barcelona he has claimed just one trophy as the club slid into a crisis brought about by years of financial incontinence. The urge to rewind the last three years and reunite with Ten Hag at Old Trafford must be strong to overcome the fact that De Jong would be sacrificing Champions League football for at least one season to move to Manchester United. But it says a lot for the qualities of Ten Hag as a coach that a player from a country in which there is a sentimental attachment to Barcelona seems happy to leave Camp Nou behind and relocate to Manchester.

At the time of writing, the actual transfer hasn’t quite been agreed. At the end of last week, it was reported that United had an opening bid turned down, but the momentum seems to be edging towards a deal being reached and United are expected to return with a second bid this week. Meanwhile, De Jong himself wasn’t letting anything on to the press when quizzed after the Netherlands’ 2-2 Nations League draw with Poland on Saturday afternoon, but it seems at least as likely as not that this transfer will go through in the near future. Considering that Ten Hag has reportedly already said that ‘the entire game will revolve around him, being the reference in midfield’, the new manager probably needs him at Old Trafford as soon as possible. After all, it’s only eight weeks until the start of the season, De Jong is still on international duty, and would probably appreciate a couple of weeks’  rest at the end of a long and – at Barcelona, at least – difficult season.

 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Enter stage left Stan Collymore, like a carthorse on roller skates, offering his thoughts on the matter to the Mirror. Collymore considers the pursuit of De Jong to be ‘underwhelming’, all of which raises the question of who Collymore thinks Manchester United should be pursuing in the transfer market this summer. Collymore doesn’t say who United should be signing, but then again, his recent history when discussing Manchester United can be a little, well, unpredictable. In April, for example, he was saying that, ‘I think their rebuild is such a big job that they will have to go nuclear and just say ‘everybody is for sale’, which sounds like a sure-fire way of telling the entire world – including the elite-level players that your club presumably still aspires to – is having some form of collective breakdown and should be avoided like the plague.’

But easy though it is to get side-tracked by such inanity (oh goodness, just imagine the reaction of the New York Stock Exchange to that sort of announcement, but I digress), there is a serious point to be made. What is Manchester United’s ‘entitlement’, when it comes to players this summer? After all, they can’t offer Champions League football, they offer an atmosphere which can turn poisonously angry when things are going badly, the ground needs a lot of work doing to it (yes, it’s going to be eventually rebuilt, but that won’t be completed on this contract for any player receiving an offer), and nobody seemed very happy there last season. A player can earn a lot of money there – but that’s true of any club, for players at the very top level – and they can offer whatever the allure of putting on a Manchester United shirt is worth in 2022. For Frenkie de Jong, they can offer Erik ten Hag, but it really is a niche matter that this particular coach should mean this much to this particular player.

As ever seems to be the way with Collymore, he’s close. It’s clear that the Ajax team of 2019 have proved to be a mixed bag elsewhere, and it may be worth giving some thought as to why this might be, but Collymore’s reflex is to immediately reach for ‘Big Club Big Player’, without having given any apparent serious consideration to what constitutes a ‘Big Club’ in 2022. Because in most metrics that aren’t reached through social media or commercial value, Manchester United fail in more respects than anyone within the club should be comfortable with, and have been doing so for some time.

And this train of thought carries with it an obvious risk. With De Jong, United should be golden. A combination of Barcelona’s ongoing financial predicament and the player’s Ten Hag connection has seen to that. But Manchester United need to not get sidetracked by players who likely won’t be interested in moving to Old Trafford, and focus on players who will. Who Stan Collymore thinks Manchester United should be going for – a blind guess: Neymar, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Kevin de Bruyne and Mo Salah – isn’t important. What matters is who Manchester United think the club should be looking at. Hopefully, they don’t see it the same way as Stan Collymore.

The article If De Jong to Manchester United is ‘underwhelming’, who will satisfy Stan and co? appeared first on Football365.com.

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