Football News

De Jong still expects a place in Barcelona’s midfield amid Van Gaal criticism & Rakitic’s vow

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 10:59, 3 June 2019

Frenkie de Jong is confident of becoming a regular starter for Barcelona despite strong competition and criticism of his transfer by Louis van Gaal.

The 22-year-old Dutch midfielder officially joins Barça on July 1st after signing for the Spanish champions earlier this year, subsequently ending a brief association with Dutch giants Ajax.

De Jong’s Catalan adventure: Five key things to know…

  1. De Jong becomes the 20th Dutchman to join Barcelona.
  2. Johan Cruyff was the first in 1973, moving from Ajax to link-up with mentor Rinus Michels.
  3. Ronald Koeman, De Jong’s national team boss, also wore the shirt.
  4. Jasper Cillessen, the last Dutchman to join Barça before De Jong, is expected to leave the club this summer.
  5. Lionel Messi was handed his Barça debut by Frank Rijkaard, one of the club’s four championship-winning Dutch managers.

His rise to stardom, following a string of accomplished performances for the Amsterdammers, attracted the attention of a host of Europe’s super clubs, including Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.

A tug-of-war for his signature ensued, with PSG confident they would get their man, but in the end, De Jong opted for Barça (who paid an initial £65m) – a club he’s closely followed – due to a dream of playing alongside Lionel Messi.

He joins a club reeling following a tough end to the 2018/19 campaign. Barça, for the second season running, threw away a three-goal first-leg lead in the Champions League semi-final. Despite winning a 24th Spanish championship, they failed to make it back-to-back doubles as Ernesto Valverde’s men fell to a 2-1 Copa del Rey final defeat at the hands of Valencia.

As things stand, Barça’s midfield is a tad congested with Sergio Busquets, Arthur, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal battling for a few spots. It’s been reported Rakitic would be leaving to make way for De Jong’s arrival, but the Croatia international has other ideas and when that was presented to the club’s latest recruit, he was cordial as well as bullish.

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“Barça told me they signed me to occupy one of the three positions in midfield,” he told Veronica Inside. “Let’s see what happens, I will not be the one to say in which position I want to play.”

Van Gaal questions move

De Jong leaves Ajax having joined in 2012 and subsequently making 89 appearances, with 64% of those outings coming in the Eredivisie. For some, it’s seen as a move too soon, but others counter that he is ready for the step up in his continual development.

Someone in the former camp is ex-Barça coach Louis van Gaal, who feels De Jong could have taken an intermediary step – if he felt he’d outgrown Ajax – before joining the Catalan behemoth, a club laced with experienced campaigners in the midfield department who could prevent De Jong from attaining the regular playing time which he needs to have as he is still growing as a footballer.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for him there,” he told Fox Sports. “Not only because he might get a different role, but he also has to play those other players from the starting line-up. He is also lucky that Barcelona has been eliminated in the semi-final (of the Champions League), because then their status will be different.

“I think he’s a great player, but I think Rakitic is also a great player. And I wanted to buy Vidal at Manchester United five years ago. I think that as a player you should also choose a club where you can always play. The question is whether that is justified in Barcelona. I hope so because at that age, you have to play every game. I think he could have made better choices because I think the whole world is waiting for Frenkie de Jong. I am so positive about him.”