opinions | 2018-11-23
Barcelona cannot allow De Jong and De Ligt to sign with another club
For the club, the Dutch duo are the two most exciting prospects in the world
We as football fans are often so sure of a young player's future that we become confident that new YouTube sensation will make football history. As years of watching the game turn into decades, it's normal become more cautious or even cynical when judging a player's potential, we have seen it end in nothing too many times, and then you're not so sure that Brazilian kid from a club you had never heard before will make it.
There are too many variables in a young man succeeding at top level football, way more than raw ability, mainly proper coaching, patience, discipline, a drive to learn and the willpower many would think impossible for a 18 year old to have in tandem. When watching Matthijs De Ligt playing for Ajax, the surprise was evident. The 17 year old showed composure and the technique you'd struggle to find in senior defenders, it's not wonder he was quickly promoted to the first team and became the youngest captain in the club's history.
His colleague and friend Frenkie De Jong had a more turbulent start of his top level career. Loaned back to Willem II and struggling to play frequently, he was rewarded by his stubborn belief in his qualities that eventually got him as a starter for Ajax. First playing as a centre back, nowadays Frenkie plays in front of the defense, dragging the ball from the back towards the final third, a more vertical style of play than you'd expect from a player thriving under a possession based style.
De Ligt is 19 years old and De Jong is 21, both are excelling at Ajax and now the Netherlands as starters. The last three months have seen the duo take the football world by storm, exhibitions against the World Champions France and Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena being the two matches they stood out as greatness in the making, and the top clubs are quickly taking notice. The offers already ensued last summer, when Tottenham made an official offer of €50 million for De Ligt turned down by the Dutch club while Barcelona tried to sign De Jong for the same fee, also rebuffed by Overmars, who's in constant contact with Abidal.
Right now it's not a matter of which top clubs aren't interested, but the few that aren't. Barça have decided De Ligt is the main choice to succeed Piqué on the right side of the defense, meanwhile Manchester City have progressed in De Jong's signing with a fee rumoured to be around €80 million with add-ons included. He'd start for Guardiola's team as Fernandinho's successor and Sign Up Bonuses have them as favorites.
There's a lot of talk of Coutinho being Iniesta's replacement, but they're strikingly different in a way that simply doesn't allow Barça to play they did with Iniesta at his prime, it would be wiser the have the Brazilian as a winger. De Jong can play from the back, tackling and distributing the ball while driving forward dribbling and creating goal scoring opportunities, connecting attack and defense, an all in one midfielder that fits perfect the club's style of play, a mixture of Busquets and Iniesta's best qualities.
His teammate De Ligt displays the main qualities of a typical Cruyffian defender, his elegance when defending isn't for showing off, but effectiveness, his tackling is clean and his passing not unlike a fully grown midfielder, he also has an coolheaded obsession with learning from his mistakes, which you'd struggle to see a modern teenager to have. The Dutchman stands out in every quality a Barcelona centre back needs, and more importantly, he displays the leadership qualities the club's backline has lacked since Puyol retired. A commanding figure, he's normally seen organizing his teammates and it's no wonder he's already Ajax's captain.
De Jong and De Ligt are special, one in a generation kind of talents, and there's little doubt they'll make it big no matter which top five league club signs them, but for Barça they mean something else entirely, a chance to perpetuate the club's recognizable style of play for another decade, adding two of its most important cogs right now. It shouldn't be a matter of money, but of not letting go of an opportunity of a lifetime.
The feeling right now is of watching something two players destined for greatness, and this time it won't end in disappointment.
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WRITTEN BY: Rafael Hernández
A die hard Barcelona fan since the Joan Gaspart years, Rafael has seen the best and worst of his club. One of the Grup 14 founders, currently overlooking and coordinating the group's strategy. Rafael’s also a football journalist and entrepreneur.