Frenkie de Jong: La Liga’s Flying Dutchman

Frenkie de Jong

Dutch footballer Frenkie de Jong last summer became the latest Netherlands export to sign for Barcelona amongst much excitement and expectation.

The promising midfielder joined from Dutch side Ajax in a deal worth £67 million. Naturally, there was already a certain degree of expectancy on the player to perform. Despite being only 23-years-old, he has already gained notable success in professional football. He has a league and cup title in the Netherlands, a semi-final run in the Champions League and a runners-up medal in both the 2017 Europa League final and last year’s inaugural Nations League final with the Netherlands.

He joined Barcelona as last season’s player of the year in the Eredivisie and supporters in Can Barça will have fully expected him to prove his worth.

Frenkie de Jong: The Flying Dutchman

Star Presentation for de Jong

The player himself had his unveiling at the Camp Nou with a glittering ceremony. Around 20,000 supporters were present to see their new hero perform ball tricks and sign autographs. He also participated in a special training session with children from the FCB Escola soccer school. Even former club Ajax got in on the act to pay tribute to their former player. The Amsterdammer’s hired a bus to tour the city with the message, ‘Barça, enjoy the future like we do.’ This was to show their appreciation for one of the best modern-day talents to pull on the white and red jersey of the Amsterdam club.

The Ajax-Barcelona Link

The young Dutchman followed the well-trodden path to Catalonia of previous Dutch legends. A long list of greats such as Johan Cruyff, Ronald Koeman, Marc Overmars, Frank and Ronald de Boer and Patrick Kluivert. It’s a rich history which unites Barcelona and the Netherlands, and the two are forever interlinked from the innovative era of Cruyff and the visionary of his fabled dream team.

It’s a point that de Jong referenced in his presentation: “Holland and Barca have always had a good connection. Barça and Ajax have a very similar way of playing, with the philosophy of Johan Cruyff.

“Ajax and Barca want to play in the same way, and that’s great for me.”

Analysis of Frenkie de Jong

De Jong is a modern-day hybrid player whose versatility enables him to play in many positions. The midfielder is adept to marshall in the deep-lying midfield role and to be the creative metronome of his team’s attacks. He also is an accomplished defender too, a player who is able to break up play and carry the ball between the lines to build up possession from deep. This is another of his virtues, demonstrating his box-to-box prowess.

The thinking behind his signing was that his versatility would aid Barcelona’s development and continue their philosophy as kings of possession play.

The transition for de Jong was thought to be relatively smooth, given the similarities between his former and current clubs. A huge advantage to adapting was to be able to learn first hand from the likes of midfield maestro Sergio Busquets on how to adeptly play the Barca way.

The eyes of the footballing world, certainly in Catalonia, have been on de Jong to see how he has coped with the demands of Spanish Football in his first season. Also, whether he has fulfilled his talents on the biggest scale of all.

The Verdict

The verdict of his premier season in Spain has been a mixed bag. It’s been a steady first season in which he has adapted to the rigours of La Liga. He is a player who always seems to have time on the ball and gives Barcelona rhythm and passing elegance. Barca play to a metronome he has accustomed himself to and instilled with from his Ajax days.

He has played 39 games, scoring two goals with two assists. One of them was against Real Betis in what was one of his standout matches in their 3-2 entertaining victory.

Bit-Part of the Puzzle

Yet, for all his steady performances, there has been no wow factor as expected. There was an expectation from him to bring more entertainment to the middle of the park, but he has been stifled by the likes of Sergio Busquets playing in his preferred position and Iván Rakitić occupying his other favoured role in midfield. Due to this, he has been shunted out to an unfamiliar wider area of midfield. In addition, he has been unable to really grab the scruff of the neck in a collection of matches with consistent performances.

The fact that he has not had more opportunities in his favoured central berth, where he had a free license to roam at Ajax, is certainly a contributing factor to his mostly subdued start to life at the club.

Since the restart, de Jong has only featured in two matches: a win away against Mallorca but since then he was out of the team with a muscle injury until the final day win at Alavés. In that time, up has stepped Barcelona’s new academy jewel Riqui Puig, who has taken to La Liga like a duck to water and adds further competition to de Jong.

Barcelona’s Failed Title Bid

Before the restart, Barcelona were looking in good shape for the La Liga championship. Yet, it has all fallen apart since then. It has been an unfulfilled season for his club. Last weekend, they relinquished the La Liga crown in meek fashion to Real Madrid. Although, Barcelona are still in the Champions League with a last 16 tie to negotiate against a resurgent Napoli team.

Soon, the flying Dutchman will spread his wings again and primed to fly in the Champions League. He may have needed this season in La Liga to fully adapt and then possibly we will see the best version of him next season. Then he will be able to answer those question marks.

 

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