Football News

“Yes, great signing” – Rio Ferdinand excited by rumours of Erik ten Hag’s first Manchester United transfer target

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 15:49, 13 May 2022

Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand has backed Frenkie de Jong to be the club’s first major acquisition under Erik ten Hag this summer.

Ten Hag, 52, will become United’s fifth permanent manager in their post-Ferguson era when he officially takes over the reins on July 1. He joins having won three consecutive Eredivisie titles with Ajax, but his forthcoming role is by far the biggest he’s undertaken.

United are currently recruiting his backroom staff and have reportedly been given a list of transfer targets. Shortly after celebrating De Godenzonen‘s record-extending 36th Dutch championship reports emerged claiming Manchester United have a ‘95% chance’ of signing De Jong.

Ten Hag and the Barcelona midfielder had previously worked together in Amsterdam.

The 25-year-old midfielder was part of the Ajax team that fell seconds short of reaching the 2019 Champions League final. Among those watching closely was former United centre-back Ferdinand, who  believes his signature is a no-brainer.

“I’ve always thought he was a top player. I watched him closely in the Champions League semi-final year, I got to see a lot of him as part of the BT team,” Ferdinand said on his podcast Vibe with Five.

“They’re saying Frenkie de Jong could be the first player to come in under Erik ten Hag and I would be saying ‘yes, great signing’. He’s not huge in terms of frame but he is quick with the ball, really good dribbler, can get out of tight situations, makes good decisions, good passer, his balance and dribbling ability are really good.

“[Man United] are a team who are looking for players who can control the ball and control the game and get the team functioning in terms of balance and possession, I think he would be a good addition. He’s not a player who scores loads of goals like Bruno Fernandes, but he’s more about dictating the game. He gives you much more other elements in the game that United need.

“This season United are definitely losing Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata – so United do need reinforcements and I think he would be a fantastic signing if this deal goes ahead. His [De Jong’s] relationship with Ten Hag – he thrived under his management while he was at Ajax.

“For me he was the outstanding player in that team. He was integral in what they did. He’s been to a big club in Barcelona and done okay there. It’s hard to play under big expectations where you’ve got to win. He won’t have that pressure at Man United right now but he could be part of the rebuild under Ten Hag. It would be smart to bring in someone he knows and trusts and believes he can go on and do big things in a team he believes in.”

Should Ten Hag make Frenkie de Jong his first Manchester United signing?

De Jong stats

A chart showing a De Jong’s stats compared to a position group (centre-midfielders), where the outer and most inner boundaries represent the top and bottom 5% figures of the wider footballing population

Any incoming head coach needs to stamp their own authority. Ten Hag is no different. He possesses his own vision of how football should be played and chances are he’ll bring that philosophy to Man United, who as Ferdinand touched upon will enter in another rebuilding phase.

So it comes as no surprise the Dutchman wants those he’s familiar with in United’s lineup. De Jong was a key cog in the Ajax machine that reached a first Champions League semi-final in more than two decades.

If anything, before Ten Hag’s arrival, De Jong was an enigma. Previous Ajax coaches would field him at centre-back — due to his exemplary ability to retain and recycle position — as often as in midfield.

Ten Hag subsequently built the Amsterdammers’ midfield around De Jong, who was charged with a a specific role. “He is not a scorer,” he once explained on Dutch media outlet Ziggo Sport. “He is the player who is in charge of supplying, of supplying the team-mates who give the assists or who score goals from their position.”

Despite his many qualities, United do not currently have the squad to properly unlock De Jong’s abilities, as he requires a defensive midfielder alongside him to do the heavy lifting. This should be where United’s priority lies as until they sign a player in the mould of Rodri, Casemiro or Fabinho, they will continue to lose midfield battles.