Frenkie de Jong was destined for a career in professional football from a young age. The sport is in his veins – both his parents played, as did his grandfather. Scouts were knocking on the door when he was just five years old and by the age of seven, he was given trials at Feyenoord and the much less glamorous Willem II. The decision he made was a surprising one for a seven-year-old, but it ultimately paid off.
Knocking at the Door
Two days short of his 18th birthday, on the 10th of May, 2015, Frenkie de Jong made his debut in the Eredivisie – the Dutch first division – for Willem II. It came after years of impressive junior performances, and it didn’t take long for interest to come flooding in from other clubs. One of these was Ajax, and within a couple of months, the Dutch footballing giant purchased him on a four-year deal.
He was loaned back to Willem II until the end of the year before spending the next year or two developing his craft predominantly with Jong Ajax in the Dutch Eerste Divisie – the second division – and despite a lack of senior appearances the talent was relatively clear. After winning the Eerste Divisie’s Talent of the Year award in 2016/17, it surprised few to see him make a breakthrough in 2017/18, a year in which he made 26 appearances for the biggest club in his home country at the age of just 20.
Throughout his young career, de Jong has seduced fans and coaches alike with a natural aptitude for the game. According to his under-15s coach, Jos Bogers: ‘He was fantastic technically. That is a natural talent. Some guys need to work a lot in order to reach a certain level, but Frenkie didn’t have to train to show his ‘ability’. His natural aptitude with the ball at his feet is clear, and with such obvious ability dribbling, passing and decision-making, and a willingness to take the game on, it’s not hard to see why he caught the attention of some of the biggest clubs in Europe at such a young age.
Because catch their attention he did. He took another step forward in 2018/19, winning Player of the Month in the Eredivisie in both December and February, and the interest as his four-year contract with Ajax neared its end began to come in a big way. He was linked variously to Paris St-Germain, Manchester City and Juventus, but for de Jong there was one club which stood out above the rest.
Having first heard about Barcelona’s interest in him in 2018, de Jong ultimately settled on the Spanish club at the beginning of this year not because of money, as many players might. Instead, de Jong said, it was because Barcelona showed him the most love.
Barcelona Come Calling
Signing a five-year deal worth 75 million euros for one of the biggest clubs in the world is a lot of pressure for a 22-year-old, but de Jong quickly made his way into Barcelona’s impressive first XI, earning starting midfield minutes despite plenty of competition at the position.
Despite these starts, however, by his own admission he didn’t begin the season as well as he would have liked – though he did score his first goal for the club in just the second week of the La Liga season in a 5-2 drubbing of Real Betis – and nor did the team. With Lionel Messi injured, Barcelona lost two of their first five games, and de Jong hadn’t shown the form which had warranted so much interest in him over the past couple of years. A lot of discussion surrounded his form during this period, with many surprised at the role he was playing for the club. He had been touted as a playmaker operating deep in midfield, in much the same vein as Sergio Busquets has for so many years. But instead, de Jong had been doing his work further up the field, attempting to cause damage in the final third.
While the initial stages of the season were a struggle for both de Jong and Barcelona, things appear to have turned around – a fact which, unsurprisingly, coincided with the return of Messi. It also coincided with a move to the defensive midfield position for de Jong which so many believed he should have been playing since the beginning of the season – a position which allows him to utilise the composure and vision which have been such a prevalent part of his game since a young age.
As Barcelona’s season continues to kick into gear – they’ve now won three La Liga games on the trot and also enjoyed a Champions League victory during that time – de Jong seems primed to continue to thrive. In Barcelona’s last outing, in which they beat Sevilla 4-0 in a dominant display, de Jong played perhaps his best game for the club. Everything which had made the club so desperate to sign him was on show. The ease with which he has played the game throughout his career was evident, with his dribbling, passing, and general lack of a weakness allowing him to put together a complete performance in the defensive midfield.
And as he settles into the side, de Jong appears to be starting a dangerous tandem midfield combination with fellow young talent Arthur Melo. The Brazilian midfielder is just a year older than de Jong at 23, and the way they have performed together in recent games is cause for considerable excitement for Barcelona fans and coaches alike.
The season is still young, and despite a slow start, it’s one filled with hope and expectation for Barcelona. After losing two of their first five La Liga games and playing out a draw in another, they conceded a significant head start to long-time rivals Real Madrid, but with three consecutive wins they have already cut that gap to just two points. And if you like to bet on football and don’t like the admittedly short odds being offered for them to win La Liga, then take a look at what’s being offered for a Champions League victory. Having won it four times in the last 13 years they have their sights set on another, and de Jong could feasibly play a major role in helping them achieve it.
From a young age, Frenkie de Jong seemed destined for a great career. Only a handful of years into it he’s still a long way off being able to make a claim to greatness, but he’s well on the way. A sluggish start at Barcelona has quickly turned around, and the football world is well and truly awake to the talent he possesses. Already, he is shaping up as a major cog in Barcelona’s quest for silverware in his first season at the club, and at just 22-years-old, he’s only just getting started.