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De Jong's Barcelona dream is almost over: Why the Blaugrana are willing to sell former Ajax ace

3:00 AM EDT 5/15/22
Frenkie De Jong Barcelona Primera Division 2021-22
The Dutch midfielder arrived at Camp Nou in 2019 to great fanfare, but Barca are now looking to offload the €75m signing for just €60m

It’s December 30, 2015. A Dutch teenager poses for a photo by the side of the pitch at Camp Nou, dreaming of playing there one day, like hundreds of thousands of others do.

The difference is that this one, Frenkie de Jong, made his dream come true.

“We went to Camp Nou as fans, and watched a game of your dream club,” wrote his girlfriend Mikky Kiemeney three years later on Instagram, after his big move from Ajax to Barcelona was announced.

“You can tell the world you're going to play for your dream club. You made that big dream reality. Can't wait to enjoy every minute of it together. We're gonna live your dream."

But the minutes aren't proving as enjoyable as they first thought. All is not well in De Jong’s fairy tale.

The dream has soured and this week journalist Gerard Romero reported that the midfielder was “95 per cent set to sign for Manchester United”.

De Jong’s camp have scoffed at rumours linking him to Old Trafford before, but what is true, as GOAL has revealed, is that Barcelona are seriously considering selling the Dutchman, a player that was supposed to be the future of the team’s midfield and was one of the hottest prospects in world football when he arrived.

Why? Financially, the club are still clawing their way out of a black hole – that is a key driving factor, but there are other reasons too.

When De Jong joined in the summer of 2019, Barcelona had won four of the last five league titles, but have failed to win any of the three since.

They have been repeatedly humiliated in the Champions League, which they last won in 2015, and the only trophy De Jong has won at Barcelona is the Copa del Rey in 2021.

Of course, none of that is solely his fault, although Barcelona’s initial €75 million (£64m/$78m)investment would be the first to admit he has struggled for consistent form since joining the club.

It doesn’t help that Barcelona are constantly embroiled in chaos, with Ernesto Valverde, Quique Setien and Ronald Koeman all being fired during De Jong’s three years in Catalunya.

De Jong has been a fixture in the side since arriving and yet still has not established himself in one particular position or role.

Versatility and flexibility are useful traits to have, but sometimes cause players problems, and De Jong has been deployed as an interior midfielder, a pivot and a centre-back, while even within those roles he is sometimes operating under different instructions.

When he arrived, he was supposed to be the long-term replacement for Sergio Busquets, but later showed his power driving the ball forward and a more chaotic way of playing which doesn’t make him the man to do that job.

At Ajax, where he operated as a deep-lying midfielder, he still had plenty of freedom to roam. That isn’t the case in the Busquets role at Barcelona, which is a disciplined role, a foundation of Barcelona’s traditional positional play.

It’s a style De Jong does not easily mesh with, and sometimes he’s accused of taking too many touches on the ball and not playing quickly enough.

Even though it hasn’t quite worked out for him on the pitch, there are plenty of interested suitors, from Man United to their rivals Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

Barcelona need the money and not many other players in their squad would be able to rake in as much as De Jong, certainly not one they would be willing to sell. And it is a position where they have some solid cover.

In midfield, Xavi is fond of Busquets, Gavi and the brilliant Pedri, with Franck Kessie arriving and Nico Gonzalez another who has done well when given the chance.

While the latter is another candidate for sale, as a La Masia graduate his bread and butter is the positional play Xavi has bemoaned that others lack, while physically he is a strong, modern player, something else the squad could use.

Xavi wants two players for each position and thinks the club still need to sign a backup for Busquets, leaving Pedri, Gavi, Kessie and Nico as the other four midfielders.

It seems too much pressure was put on De Jong’s shoulders too quickly, at 21 years old and with a big price tag, he was leading the team when he should still have been completing his footballing education, learning, growing, improving.

In recent months De Jong has cut a frustrated figure on the pitch, and trudging off of it, with Xavi often keen to substitute him.

He has completed the full 90 minutes just 13 times in 33 games since the new coach arrived last year.

Dragged off for Nico Gonzalez against Rayo with Barça 1-0 down, De Jong looked furious.

“It’s evident that the substitution frustrated him, but I have to look at the team,” said Xavi.

“He’s very important, he has to mark an era at the club. He is at a very good level and must continue.

"He can be one of the best midfielders in the world in the future. If it were up to me, he would continue at Barcelona for many more years.”

This was the coach at once praising the player but also revealing that it might not be up to him to decide De Jong’s future.

Only Pedri’s injury and other absences in midfield have earned De Jong more 90-minute appearances in the past few weeks, with Barcelona down to the bare bones as they approach the end of the season.

De Jong is suspended for the trip to face Getafe on Sunday, meaning the club’s last game against Villarreal at home on the final day of the season could also be his last appearance in a Barcelona shirt, even if that is not his plan.

He turned 25 years old on Thursday and, his 18-year-old, fresh-faced self in the Instagram photo would be surprised and disappointed that his dream move would reach this sad juncture.

It’s not over yet, of course, and many would argue De Jong deserves one more season at Barcelona to get it right under Xavi in a more stable set-up, but the club’s financial necessity is a difficult fire to put out.

And even though losing him will be painful for Barcelona, especially if he goes on to shine elsewhere, having already lost Lionel Messi, they have been through worse.

There is little doubt De Jong will fulfil his potential somewhere. It is not hard to imagine him moving to Manchester City, replacing Fernandinho and instantly thriving with Rodri and Kevin de Bruyne in a Pep Guardiola midfield.

For now, though, the links are with the other team in Manchester, as per Romero’s story. A move to Old Trafford doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from Frenkie’s perspective, at least not on paper.

Manchester United aren’t in next season’s Champions League and are almost as chaotic as Barcelona, but De Jong would undoubtedly be a great signing, and one to rebuild a team around.

Incoming Ajax boss Erik ten Hag has a good relationship with the midfielder and if the team was set up around De Jong, to his strengths, perhaps he could be tempted, if Barcelona really tried to push him out of the door.

Even though for now De Jong still wants to succeed at Barcelona – in a city he loves, at a club he loves – at some point he might decide for his own sake, it’s best to stop swimming against the tide, and accept the dream is over.