Erik ten Hag reportedly remains intent on securing the Frenkie de Jong signing in 2023 – and Manchester United have been given new belief they can complete the deal thanks to Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal.
United chased Barcelona star De Jong for well over three months this summer. Having made him their No 1 target, though, finalising a deal proved far harder than anyone expected. After finally settling on an initial £63m fee with Barcelona, negotiating with the midfielder proved an altogether different matter.
Indeed, despite repeated attempts to lure him to Old Trafford, De Jong proved an immovable object. Truthfully, they should have known the writing was on the wall when reports in Spain listed 10 reasons why De Jong was to object to a transfer to United.
Despite that, they continued to chase him long into the summer. And it was only when they switched attentions to Casemiro – wrapping up his £63.6m deal in a matter of days – did John Murtough come to a painful realisation over De Jong.
And with United soon going on to spend over £200m in the summer market, the snub by De Jong did not seem to hinder them.
Despite all that, Barcelona remain desperate to sell the player. With Gavi and Pedri coming through the ranks, there’s a feeling that De Jong remains a sacrificable player.
And while their money issues are aided by some large franchise deals, the club are well aware of keeping a trim squad.
Since the season got underway, De Jong has been in and out of the Barcelona side. He’s made three starts in LaLiga, coming off the bench in three more. And it’s a similar story in the Champions League, where he has one start from two to his name.
Louis van Gaal fires warning to Frenkie de Jong
It all leaves De Jong operating at less than peak match fitness and in danger of falling behind his colleagues.
His coach at international level, Van Gaal, is a bit of stickler when it comes to such matters. To that end, he’s warning De Jong that his situation at Barcelona cannot continue indefinitely.
De Jong suffered a hamstring injury during the Netherlands’ 2-0 win over Poland on Thursday night. That saw him miss out against Belgium in Sunday’s final Nations League clash.
Addressing his situation, Van Gaal has issued a warning to the player.
Van Gaal said: “I have let go of that dogma [only selecting players that play for their club] for a long time, otherwise I would not have selected Steven Bergwijn, for example. Memphis [Depay] and De Jong are two very important players who have left.
“I have encouraged them: I will keep a place for you for as long as possible free, but you have to be fit. The fact that the Dutch national team is not a rehabilitation centre certainly applies to the World Cup, but I have to trust that they are fit when they say that.
“They have meant so much to this Dutch team, I have to reserve a place for that. Because we are 26, I can easily select players. In 2014 I did the same with [Georginio] Wijnaldum. One has earned more pluses than the other.
Star must consider his options, Van Gaal suggests
“Memphis has scored goals and provided assists and has been so important, just like De Jong. His qualities to be able to cope with the pressure of the opponent We are not the only ones who put pressure on the ball, several countries do that.
“Frenkie de Jong is a determining factor. That’s why I look at being complementary to De Jong, but I also see if I can find someone else for it because we have to be prepared. You never know how a hamstring injury will turn out.”
And, as it stands, Van Gaal’s warning may well put De Jong’s World Cup place in doubt.
The tournament gets underway in less than two months time. And Van Gaal will, understandably, be keeping a close eye on De Jong’s fitness.
A pulled hamstring is often associated with a lack of match fitness. As such, the decision to stay at Barcelona may well, inadvertently, cost De Jong his shirt at the World Cup.
While any move to United in 2023 would come too late to save that, he knows it may put him in a stronger position to ensure such risks do not befall him again.
De Jong will not be the first player deciding his future based on Van Gaal’s advice. Indeed, Cody Gakpo reportedly turned his back on a summer move from PSV on the advice of his national coach.