With the arrival of young Dutch talent Frenkie de Jong at the Camp Nou edging closer, it’s no wonder why the Barcelona faithful are waiting with high anticipation. At a mere 22 years of age, De Jong enjoyed a standout season with Ajax this year, playing a pivotal part in their Eredivisie triumph as well as their unexpected journey to the Champions League semi-finals, Let’s take a look at De Jong’s many strengths on the pitch in order to understand why he is worth the €75 million that it took to lure him to the Blaugranes’ camp.
Starting his career with Dutch outfit Willem II, De Jong featured for their U17 side before breaking into the U21s in the very same season. This prompted a transfer to the Ajax U21s, after which De Jong was officially promoted to the first team permanently on July 1st 2016.
The 2016/17 season saw the midfielder only feature in four Eredivisie matches as well as a number of Europa League matches, including a brief showing in the final against Manchester United.
For almost half of the season, the youngster was playing his fixtures in the second team, however it was during this time that he developed much of the versatility that he exhibits in his playing style today. Including his appearances for the second team, the youngster played a total of 42 matches, featuring as a center-mid, attacking-mid and defensive-mid. While almost half of his matches were spent in his regular position as a defensive midfielder, De Jong certainly impressed in his five-match stint as an attacking midfielder. He managed to score two goals and bag three assists, thus indicating his attacking prowess from an early stage.
Perhaps it was De Jong’s impressive showing in the second team that proved his worth, as it was during the following season when Ajax made the decision to promote him to permanent first-team football. This flexible player made a total of 22 league appearances that season, and even enjoyed his first preview of Champions League football, featuring in both legs of his side’s qualifying round playoff against OGC Nice. In 26 matches, De Jong featured 14 times at center-back, with six appearances a piece in both defensive-mid and center-mid roles. Clearly, Ajax took De Jong’s excellent tracking and reading of the game into consideration when making their decision to shift him into a more defensive role.
While the past two seasons were nothing short of impressive, very few could have predicted the phenomenal season that De Jong would have in 2018/19. Slotting in as one of two defensive midfielders in Ajax’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Erik ten Hag knew exactly how to get the best possible performances out of his classy midfielder.
9 – Frenkie de Jong became the first Ajax player to record a 100% dribble success rate (9/9) while attempting at least 7 dribbles in an Eredivisie match since Opta collects full Eredivisie data (2010/11). Quicksilver. pic.twitter.com/3WBMX18J6r— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) February 24, 2019
Despite having suffered a calf injury early on in the season, De Jong bounced back by scoring in a crucial 3-0 win over close rivals Feyenoord, and helped his side to landslide victories including a 5-0 win over FC Emmen, a 6-0 victory over VVV-Venlo and an 8-0 thrashing of De Graafschap.
In addition to producing consistent performances, De Jong has also proven that he has a big-match mentality. Ajax’s route to the Champions League semi-finals was nothing if not challenging, as the Dutch champions found themselves having to overcome European giants such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Juventus. Except for one match against Bayern, De Jong played every minute of every game against Ajax’s most formidable opponents.
1 - Frenkie de Jong among Ajax players against Real Madrid yesterday:— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 6, 2019
75 touches - 1st
55 passes - 1st
89.1% passing accuracy - 1st among starters
24 passes in the opp. half - 2nd
6 recoveries - 3rd
Overall, De Jong has proven himself in all aspects of his game. While his talent is undisputed, as is also the case with many of his contemporaries, he also happens to possess a versatility and big-match mentality that is not easily found amongst players of his age; all of which are traits that Barcelona need in a future star who can earn them the silverware they so desperately crave in the coming season.