Is it Time for Manchester United to End Pursuit of Frenkie de Jong?

Frenkie de Jong

Manchester United and Barcelona have reached a full agreement for the transfer of Frenkie de Jong, with the deal reportedly costing around €85million in total, as per Fabrizio Romano.

The remaining issue left in the deal is that personal terms are yet to be agreed between United and the Dutchman, as the player intends to stay at Barcelona.

Frenkie de Jong: More Hassle Than He’s Worth?

Without a doubt, De Jong brings elements of creativity and experience to this lacklustre United squad of late. He has played directly under newly appointed manager Erik ten Hag, and even picked up Champions League Midfielder of the Season and Eredivisie Player of the Season for his outstanding contributions throughout the 2018/2019 campaign; in which Ajax reached the Champions League semi-final and knocked out European giants Juventus and Real Madrid – meaning Ten Hag is capable of utilising the star to his best abilities.

However, with a first-team that have come under fire for dressing room leaks and childish antics in recent years, is the addition of a slightly demotivated player the wisest route to follow?

Warning Signs That are all too Familiar in Manchester

Former club manager, and regarded as one of the greatest managers of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson, had a similar situation during his reign in Manchester. He too was chasing a Dutchman, Patrick Kluivert, in 1998, and attempted to convince the star of a move to Old Trafford. Kluivert opted to stay at his current club at the time, AC Milan, for a year before securing a move to Barcelona. In true Sir Alex style, he took a lighthearted jab at the Dutchman, saying: “Maybe he doesn’t know how big a club Manchester United is. I’m surprised he didn’t give himself the opportunity to speak to us.”

Kluivert’s snub led Ferguson to sign Aston Villa’s Dwight Yorke – and the rest was history. Yorke became one half of a prolific partnership with Andy Cole, scoring 53 goals between them throughout the 1998/99 season and cementing their names in the outstanding history of Manchester United by being part of the record-breaking treble-winning side.

Years later and in his autobiography, Sir Alex again touched on the Kluivert rejection and how it actually went in United’s favour. He said: “There is a growing mountain of persuasive evidence that the Dutchman’s indifference indirectly did us a huge favour.”

With similarities evident between the Kluivert and De Jong sagas, should Ten Hag’s side really be pushing so hard to convince a player to join such a historic club?

Reluctance to Leave: When Did it Begin?

The Red Devils made their interest in the Dutch international clear at the start of the transfer window, leaving them enough time to try and complete a deal before the season starts. An ongoing dilemma for United has always been that the player is reluctant to leave the Spanish giants, especially to a club in which he would not be playing Champions League football. 

Another issue that has been documented throughout the talks is Barcelona’s complications surrounding their wage structure. De Jong is reportedly owed around £17 million in unpaid wages, a consequence of the wage deferral that players agreed to during the COVID pandemic in 2020, meaning he’d be even more hesitant to depart Spain without receiving the funds. 

For United fans, the past few weeks have been achingly similar to the Jadon Sancho transfer saga of 2020, in which the club and Borussia Dortmund were in talks over the Englishman up until the final day of the summer transfer window – until the deal fell through. The clubs could not agree on a final fee for the youngster, and so he remained Germany-bound for another year.

With the 2022/2023 campaign looming and Erik ten Hag’s side already up and running on their pre-season tour, starting off with a superb 4-0 win over rivals Liverpool in Thailand, it may be time to turn the page on the 25-year-old and look elsewhere. 

Alternatives to Frenkie de Jong – Another Dwight Yorke Scenario?

Should United continue to fail in their pursuit of convincing the midfielder, where could they turn for like-for-like alternatives?

 According to talkSPORT, the Red Devils have outlined two potential alternatives for the defensive midfielder position: Wolves’ Ruben Neves and Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans. Both options are the same age as De Jong (25) and whilst they may lack in experience of European football, they are first-choice in their position at their clubs and are already used to the pace and physical demand of the Premier League.

 A factor that could rank Neves higher on their transfer list is that he is already experienced in playing behind Portuguese counterpart Bruno Fernandes. The pair are regularly named in the starting line-up to represent their national team and if Cristiano Ronaldo was to remain a United player this summer, they know exactly how to feed the prolific forward who has scored 117 goals for Portugal and is the highest international goal scorer in history.

Neves can be positioned defensively in front of defenders, yet is able to move up the pitch to create attacks and maintain possession. He is an accurate passer, which makes him a great option for distributing the ball and contributing to build-up play, and he is able to strike an absolute rocket into the top corner – something which United fans will be all too familiar with after being on the receiving end numerous times. 

 Belgian international Tielemans has been one of Leicester’s prominent men since signing for the Foxes in 2019 and has made over 100 Premier League appearances for the Midlands side.

Recognised for his remarkable long-range shooting ability, he netted a stunning strike in the 2021 FA Cup final against Chelsea winning Leicester the trophy for the first time in their history. He was a part of the Belgium squad that came third in the 2018 World Cup and participated in the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament – meaning he brings experience of competing at the highest level.

The 25-year-old could prove to be the cheaper option, given the fact he has one year remaining on his contract at Leicester and considering his reluctance to sign an extension, he would be set to leave the club on a free next summer. 

Whoever United decide is the most feasible option, it’s evident that the holding midfielder position is one that needs strengthening, especially given the departure of Paul Pogba. Ten Hag and his team need to act quickly in order to bolster the squad and implement his playing style unto new signings, ideally before the team return to Old Trafford on August 7 for their opening game of the season.

Elsewhere in United’s transfer window, they have completed the signing of Dutch left-back Tyrell Malacia for £14.5million, as well as reaching a full agreement for Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez, that sees the Argentine reunite with former coach Ten Hag. Christian Eriksen has also reportedly verbally agreed a three-year deal with the Red Devils, awaiting a successful medical test and contract completion.