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Busquets' successor or playmaking defender? How Barcelona could line up with Frenkie de Jong

6:59 AM EST 1/24/19
Frenkie De Jong Barcelona
The Blaugrana have beaten PSG and Manchester City to the Ajax ace's signature but where will they play the versatile midfielder?

In ruling out a move to Barcelona last summer, Frenkie de Jong made a telling confession.

“For the time being, I will stay with Ajax, for at least another year," the Ajax ace declared. "But I would really like to play with Messi someday. He's already 31, so I have to hurry up."

Thus, Wednesday's news that De Jong has decided to join Barca in the summer came as little surprise, even if the Catalans were forced to go 'all-in' to beat off stiff competition from Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City for the Dutchman's services.

Ultimately, it came down to Josep Maria Bartomeu's determination to get his man, with the Barca president having been left red-faced by Antoine Griezmann's decision to stay at Atletico Madrid last summer rather than move to Camp Nou.

As a result, he was willing to sanction a mammoth €86 million deal that will also see the 21-year-old De Jong earn a whopping €16m in wages.

The obvious question now is whether the Netherlands international will prove worth the investment.

Well, De Jong offers both quality and versatility, two very valuable traits in the modern game.

This is a player who has been exciting all and sundry with his ability to move seamlessly between defence and midfield.

“I really think he is a revelation,” former Ajax and Netherlands star Arie Haan enthused after watching De Jong play at the back against PSV last season.

"Now, you might laugh, but he is a better version of Franz Beckenbauer. People must interpret that properly, though. What I really mean is that he also has speed and passes easily. Those are enormous weapons."

Therefore, De Jong's ability to bring the ball out from the back would make him an attractive proposition for the centre of defence when Barca are faced with weaker sides likely to sit back (as is often the case in La Liga).

Playing De Jong alongside Gerard Pique or Samuel Umtiti would almost be like having an extra man in midfield, a useful option and obvious advantage for Barca if ever they need to play an even more offensive game plan that usual.

However, there is no denying that De Jong feels most comfortable and is most effective as a deep-lying midfielder.

"He looks like Sergio Busquets in terms of playing style,” former Barcelona maestro Xavi stated last year.

De Jong is certainly aware of the comparisons but he insisted upon signing for the Blaugrana, "I am not going to say that I will bench Busquets or anything. But I think I have a good chance of getting plenty of minutes."

That's beyond dispute. Busquets will be 31 by the start of next season and De Jong will be the obvious choice to anchor the midfield whenever the Spain international needs a rest.

It's also clear, though, that Barca have identified him as the Catalan's long-term successor. Indeed, just like Busquets, De Jong has that rare ability to make those around him perform better.

Gini Wijnaldum believes Ronald Koeman's decision to base his midfield around the youngster is the principle reason for Netherlands' recent resurgence.

"With his dribbles he always ensures there is a good connection from defence to midfield and from midfield to attack," the Liverpool star recently told Voetbal International.

"He is always able to create space because he is a) always available and b) with his actions he creates many situations.

"He forces opponents to choose, they have to come out of position, lose their marker, which can automatically make space or give us a free man.

"That makes it easier for me to play my game. I am someone who naturally likes to move.

"With Frenkie, I can play much more in the possession, so that in certain situations I also get closer to the opponent's goal. The goals against Germany and France are good examples.

"I can get there on time now, whereas it was much more difficult for me, because I played a controlling role.

"Frenkie is so good."

So good, in fact, that he could just as easily play in a more offensively-minded role alongside Busquets, either in the 4-4-2 that Valverde often deployed last season, or Barca's customary 4-3-3.

Because of his excellent dribbling skills and keen eye for a pass, De Jong has occasionally been deployed as an attacking midfielder in the past and former Barca assistant coach Henk ten Cate says he has the potential to be "a mix of Deco and Xavi".

Barca could well utilise him in a similar role at the start of his Camp Nou career, allowing him to continue his footballing education working in tandem with Busquets.

De Jong still has plenty to work on – for example, he is still sometimes guilty of taking too much time on the ball.

However, he should certainly enjoy learning his trade from one of the greatest defensive midfielders the game has ever seen.

But perhaps not as much as playing alongside Messi!