Despite his club wanting to sell, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Frenkie de Jong remains at Barcelona

It might seem strange to many observers that Frenkie de Jong is still a Barcelona player.

Manchester United really want to sign De Jong and will pay him a lot of money to play for them. Barca really want to sell him and have been practically trying to push the Dutchman out of the door for months.

Usually in football, this means the transfer happens. Maybe there is some haggling between the clubs over the fee, or with the player over payments owed by his team or potentially due from his future employers, or the agent’s bonus becomes an issue, but the deal gets done.

Things at Barcelona are different — in this, as in many other things.

De Jong has known for a long time that Barca’s directors would like him gone. The 25-year-old has never really lived up to the reputation he had on arrival, so a decision was made some time ago to try and recoup as much as possible of the €86million (£73m, $88m) he cost from Ajax, especially as young superstars Pedri and Gavi are ready to run the midfield.

As far back as last December, his father John de Jong told Dutch publication AD: “I know that Barcelona need money and a big offer for Frenkie could help, but I don’t see it happening.”

Through the end of last season and into the summer transfer window, Barca president Joan Laporta, director of football Mateu Alemany and international department director Jordi Cruyff kept getting asked whether De Jong was on the market. They kept replying that the club’s finances meant that certain players would have to be sold. Which was a roundabout way of saying ‘yes, he is’.

APPLY  Dana White to critics of $250k gift to Nelk Boys: ‘All these people on the internet, go f*** yourself’

At Old Trafford, confidence grew that United could sign a player who had shone at Ajax under incoming United manager Erik ten Hag. A delegation including chief executive officer Richard Arnold and football director John Murtough flew to Barcelona to meet with Laporta and Alemany in mid-July. The Athletic reported United had agreed to pay a guaranteed fee of €75million for De Jong and that they could pay add-ons worth €10million.

Barca did not officially accept this offer, but it was attractive to them. The hierarchy at Old Trafford was sure they had their man at this point, so there was surprise two days later when De Jong was on the plane when Barcelona flew out for their US pre-season tour.

Their first game of that tour, against Inter Miami on July 20, saw Barca use six midfielders in a 6-0 victory. Summer signing Franck Kessie started along with youngsters Pedri and Nico Gonzalez, with Sergio Busquets, Gavi and another new kid Pablo Torre featuring in the second half. De Jong came off the bench, but to fill in at centre-back.


Robert Lewandowski (right) and Joan Laporta (Photo: Eric Espada/Getty Images)

The situation was similar for Saturday evening’s Las Vegas Clasico against Real Madrid — the Dutchman emerged after half-time, to play out of position at the back. Meanwhile, utility man Sergi Roberto became the seventh player used in the midfield three in just two games.

Barca coach Xavi was asked if his selections were a way of telling De Jong he was no longer needed.

“I don’t send messages,” Xavi said. “It is possible to adapt. I have spoken with (De Jong) and he knows I value him a lot as a player. He is fundamental for the team’s play. Then there is, I insist, the financial situation of the team. We have a lot of competition for places.”

Xavi was publicly showing Barcelona were planning for a midfield without De Jong in 2022-23, as the hierarchy wants. But he had used both games to give a player minutes to help develop his fitness for the new campaign, and telling De Jong he still rates him highly. 

A key skill for Barca coaches over the past half decade has been an ability to keep players on board for the team, even as the directors are trying to force them out of the club.

During the final years of former president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s regime, there were huge stresses between the dressing room and the boardroom at the Camp Nou. This was most noticeable in the awful relationship between Bartomeu and then captain Leo Messi.

Long-serving Catalan veterans including Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba have long been aware that certain directors would prefer they finish their careers elsewhere. Other squad members deemed not to be performing at the level of their salaries, such as Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti, kept fighting off regular pressure to leave.

That relationship between players and directors was better at first when the perma-smiling Laporta returned for his second spell as president in early 2021. But negotiations with many squad members have continued through the months and years, with ‘bad cop’ Alemany now in charge of the details.

Ousmane Dembele (centre) celebrates after a goal with Philippe Coutinho (left) and Samuel Umtiti (Photo: Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)

The stresses between boardroom and dressing room have returned, most obviously shown when Alemany went on Spanish TV to say Dembele had no future at the club in the middle of January’s transfer window.

Xavi’s ability to play both sides was shown as he first dropped the France international from the team until that window closed, but then brought him back in to help ensure Champions League qualification for 2022-23.

These situations keep recurring because, despite their huge financial problems and lack of recent trophy successes, Barca have retained most of their prestige. Being a Barca player remains a career goal, even for top internationals at leading Premier League clubs, and leaving the Camp Nou for anywhere else can be seen as a step down. The lifestyle in the Catalan capital is attractive for players, and their partners and families. The money is great too (even if sometimes wages do not arrive exactly when they are supposed to).

Robert Lewandowski made clear this summer he was keen to leave Bayern Munich for Barcelona, even though it might seem a competitive step down given the two clubs’ levels of financial stability.

Raphinha was willing to come to the Camp Nou for less money than he could have earned in the Premier League. Other players they have targeted — such as Chelsea club captain Cesar Azpilicueta and Sevilla defender Jules Kounde — are keen to come despite not knowing for sure they can be registered to play in La Liga or the Champions League.

As things stand, Barcelona remain interested in selling De Jong, despite what Laporta or Alemany might say in public. They know they cannot yet register Lewandowski or Raphinha to play in La Liga. The other summer signings, free transfer arrivals Kessie and Andreas Christensen are in the same situation, as are Dembele and Sergi Roberto, who have agreed new contracts to stay on reduced terms, despite the pressure they faced to leave.

Barcelona say they are confident that the activation of their second ‘economic lever’ will allow them to register all these players for the start of this campaign, although La Liga has yet to pronounce officially on that.

Alemany has said that, regardless of whether De Jong stays, Barca are still aiming to shift multiple players off their wage bill. They have sold Philippe Coutinho for a cut-price deal to Aston Villa and sent Clement Lenglet on loan to Tottenham, but they are still stuck with Umtiti, Puig, Martin Braithwaite, Neto and Oscar Mingueza despite all five having known for months, or in some cases years, that they were unlikely to play much.

US international right-back Sergino Dest has been offered to different clubs but does not want to leave. Memphis Depay is well down Xavi’s attacking pecking order but has no intention of finding a new club, and potential admirers know he will be available for free in 12 months. Both Amsterdam-born Dest and Netherlands international Depay are likely to empathise with De Jong’s situation.

Sergino Dest has been offered to clubs (Photo: Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

While his public comments through recent months have left enough wiggle room to cover De Jong if he does leave, the general message has been that he enjoys life in the Catalan capital and wants to stay.

Earlier this year, he and his partner bought a €5million mansion in the city and they were sufficiently secure about his future plans to get engaged this summer. Playing for Barca is a dream, especially for Dutch players, and those close to De Jong have reiterated that Barcelona was still his dream club. 

De Jong is unlikely to be consulting too closely the exact small print on La Liga’s rules, or the financial intricacies of each lever being pulled, but he will know Barca have offered big contracts to Lewandowski and Raphinha, so there is money around.

There is confusion among the players about what exactly the directors are planning, but a feeling of let’s see what card Laporta pulls next out of his sleeve.

De Jong knows that players who have been told by the board they have no future at the Camp Nou can stick around — Dembele’s situation shows they can even continue to be important for the team if the coach values them.

Multiple sources, who wished not to be named owing to sensitive relations with Barcelona, who are close to different squad members, those in and out of favour with Xavi and Laporta, have told The Athletic that everyone in the team has got used to living, training and performing amid this atmosphere. One who knows De Jong well said all this summer’s noise would not bother the 25-year-old, who was strong enough mentally to perform at his best for the team once the window closes and the speculation is over.

Viewed from the Barcelona dressing room, a move to Manchester United is not that attractive, even if United were to agree to meet all the financial commitments in De Jong’s Barca contract.

The Athletic has been told he did not have a particularly special relationship with Ten Hag when at Ajax. There has been plenty of turbulence at Old Trafford in recent years and especially this summer — De Jong is likely to share Cristiano Ronaldo’s view on playing in the Europa League this season, with no guarantee of a return to the Champions League any time soon.

Hence Laporta again walking a narrow line during an interview with ESPN at the weekend.

“Frenkie de Jong is our player, a high-quality player, we like him very much,” Laporta said. “We must just clarify some aspects of his position. He has some offers but we have not accepted them. We want to talk to him to know exactly what he wants.”

This clarification of De Jong’s position will be mostly asking him whether he might accept another pay cut, for the coming season at least. In 2020 he agreed to defer most of his wages for 2021-22 into the future. That was good then, but now means he is due to earn at least €18million a year, before bonuses, each season up until June 2026. Ironically, perhaps, De Jong is owed a ‘loyalty bonus’ of €15.58m, which Barca will find difficult to pay, however many economic levers they pull.

Maybe De Jong is just playing hardball, and he is persuaded to leave Barca and join United by August 31. But there is no evidence yet to suggest this will happen. Leaving the Camp Nou is difficult to do, whether you are wanted or not.

(Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

#club #wanting #sell #wouldnt #surprise #Frenkie #Jong #remains #Barcelona

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button