News Matches
Manchester United

De Jong to Man Utd: Why Ten Hag is willing to wait for Barcelona midfielder

5:44 AM EDT 7/25/22
Frenkie de Jong Erik ten Hag GFX
There's no end in sight to one of the longest-running transfer sagas of the summer

From the very beginning, Manchester United were prepared to wait for Frenkie de Jong. His was the name that figured most prominently when Erik ten Hag held his first transfer summit with football director John Murtough, in Amsterdam in May.

United’s new manager had begun work immediately after the end of the Dutch season. Plans were put in place and the club’s hierarchy were convinced they were a good two months ahead of schedule in terms of their recruitment drive this summer.

Indeed, it was a factor in the decision to abandon a two-year consultancy agreement with Ralf Rangnick.

The German, who was interim manager from December to the end of the season, was originally set to have a significant input on transfers.

But such was the confidence in Ten Hag’s vision that Rangnick’s expertise was no longer required.

Ten Hag has a clear idea of how United will play and there has been ample evidence of that in pre-season, even without the addition of many of the players he believes will be pivotal to his overhaul.

Tyrell Malacia is the only new recruit to feature, with Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez yet to join up with their new team-mates.

Eriksen is a ball-playing midfielder, capable of maintaining possession and opening up defences with his vision and technique.

Martinez will be key to Ten Hag’s intention to build from the back, while Malacia is a typically modern full-back in that he loves to get forward.

It is easy to see how all three will help turn United from the counterattacking team they were under Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to the proactive, high-pressing side the Dutchman envisages.

But during those critical talks with Murtough, De Jong was the name Ten Hag insisted was critical to his thinking.

He knows the Netherlands midfielder well, having nurtured him early on his career at Ajax and helped him develop into one of the most sought-after talents in Europe.

Pep Guardiola was desperate to bring De Jong to Manchester City in 2019. He was seen as an archetypal Guardiola player.

But it was Barcelona who won the race for one of the stars of Ajax’s run to that season’s Champions League semi-final.

Three years on and – and with De Jong yet to establish himself at the Nou Camp – Ten Hag was convinced there was a deal to be done this summer.

Both he, and United, have remained confident their top target will end up at Old Trafford, which is why they have continued to pursue him and ignored the outside noise.

It has been a patient approach – but they would never have wasted so much of the window on one player if not for the encouraging feedback they have received.

They knew from the start that Barca wanted to sell – which was always the biggest hurdle. The size of the fee was the only issue.

Barca valued him at £85 million ($102m). United were determined to drive that figure down – and were confident the Catalans’ need to sell, amid their financial struggles and summer recruitment drive, would work in their favour.

As expected, Barca’s stance softened. They were adamant they wanted to recoup the £67m ($80m) they paid Ajax for De Jong.

United continued to push back – again underlining their confidence in their negotiating position. After weeks of talks, a base figure of £55m ($66m) was all but agreed.

CEO Richard Arnold and Murtough flew out to Spain to reach a final breakthrough and succeeded – but, peculiarly, the amount rose to £63m ($74.5m) with a further £8m ($9.6m) in add-ons.

There has been no official explanation for the sudden jump – but an ongoing sticking point has been De Jong’s personal battle with Barca over deferred wages owed to him.

It is little secret he does not want to leave the club – but if he is to be pushed out, he will make sure Barca pay up.

An additional £8m from United will help make up the shortfall in wages owed to De Jong when deferring payments to help the club through their financial woes over the past two seasons.

With a fee agreed, De Jong’s stand-off with Barca is the only obstacle to his move.

United strongly believe he is willing to reunite with Ten Hag – even if his preference is to remain at Barca.

Personal terms will not be an issue and are expected to be wrapped up swiftly, once De Jong and Barca settle.

Old Trafford sources say Ten Hag is willing to wait beyond the start of the season to land his man. It all points to the ongoing belief that De Jong will be a United player.

At the start of negotiations United were adamant they had other options.

Kalvin Phillips – who has since joined City - was one of the names on their wanted list. Ruben Neves is another player they admire – along with Youri Tielemans.

All three are capable of carrying out the holding midfield role that Ten Hag has earmarked for De Jong – but none of them are regarded on the same level as the Netherlands international.

Declan Rice is a dream target for United – but not at figures in excess of £100m ($120m), which is what West Ham value him at. Ten Hag has spoken on tour of the premium prices placed on English talent – and Rice is a case in point.

United also want Jude Bellingham – who is a different profile – but a move for the Borussia Dortmund star was never on the cards in this window.

Fred has impressed in pre-season and is valued by his new manager – but the intention is to sign a holding midfielder to build United’s team around – and Ten Hag is aiming for the highest quality.

Talk of alternative options has quietened in recent days. Neves and Tielemans remain potential back-ups – but a negotiating ploy at the start of talks to drive down Barca’s asking price, is no longer required.

A fee has been agreed. And there is no need to strong-arm De Jong, whose agent, Ali Dursun, has been in regular contact with United this summer, not least over the signing of another of his clients, Malacia.

It is purely a case of the 25-year-old resolving his financial issues with Barca before the transfer can be completed.

It leaves the deal at a strange impasse. United remain confident. Barca remain intent on selling. De Jong believed to be willing to move. It just has to be on his terms.

But for those who have watched such transfer sagas play out in United’s recent past, there will be red flags.

Back in 2013, former executive vice chairman, Ed Woodward, was equally as confident he could deliver Cesc Fabregas to the newly-appointed David Moyes.

So confident, in fact, that United abandoned their interest in an emerging talent, Thiago Alcantara, with Moyes unsure about the Barca starlet.

Woodward was ultimately given the run-around by Fabregas, who was reluctant to leave the Nou Camp.

United did sign a midfielder that summer – Marouane Fellaini. Ten Hag can only hope history does not repeat itself.

The alternatives to De Jong:

Ruben Neves: Admired for a long time by United scouts, the Wolves midfielder was widely expected to move this summer. But a lack of serious offers looks likely to see him remain at Molineux. If United were to firm up interest, they would be signing a player who is a proven Premier League performer.

Youri Tielemans: Strongly linked with Arsenal this summer, the Belgium international has long-been on United’s radar as the type of controlling midfielder they have lacked. Another who is proven in English football and looks ready to make the step up in level.

Declan Rice: Seen as a dream signing by many within United – and if they were to move for the West Ham man, this is the time to do it. Other suitors, including Chelsea and City, have other priorities, with Guardiola already moving for a cheaper option in Phillips after the signing of Erling Haaland. United were quickly put off by West Ham’s asking price of more than £100m – while De Jong was always Ten Hag’s first choice.

Jude Bellingham: A move for the England international was never on the cards this summer – but he is a player United would love. A different profile, but such is his talent that he could play anywhere in midfield. United also know they will face fierce competition for his signature when he becomes available, with Liverpool and City big admirers.