We live in a digital age where a single piece of genius playing on loop can go viral or an overwhelming stat is capable of sparking a trend in the Twittersphere, instantly hyping up a young talent few have actually watched at length.
But while players are frequently burdened with the ‘next Messi’ tag and others absurdly dubbed the ‘next Mbappe’ – even as Kylian Mbappe is only just becoming Kylian Mbappe – the fanfare surrounding Frenkie De Jong had not been blown out of proportion, partly because he’s simply that good.
However, all that may quickly change now that the Ajax youth product has moved to Barcelona, a transfer which is reportedly worth €75 million plus add-ons and will join the club on July 1.
As such, it’s important to address something right here and now – he is NOT Xavi.
Given his vast array of passes, retention of the ball and play-making abilities, it’s easy – and lazy – to draw parallels with the celebrated Catalan whose quotes on how De Jong possesses the ‘Barcelona DNA’ have admittedly facilitated inevitable comparisons.
The inaccuracies with which the Dutchman’s qualities are portrayed are more to do with the misunderstanding of his style and impact rather than an exaggeration of his standards. Given that most of his online admirers have jumped on the bandwagon on the back of a few YouTube highlights and snippets of information on the internet, that’s hardly surprising.
De Jong is not your typical deep-lying playmaker in the Xavi or Andrea Pirlo mould, in fact, he rarely sports the ‘regista’ hat at all. While he may fall deep to receive possession to kick-start a move, he’s intricately involved further up the pitch, spraying fewer long diagonals than you’d think and focusing more on quick exchanges and penetrative passes that break through the lines.
The young Dutchman also takes more risks in possession than you’d expect for a midfielder who boasts a pass completion rate of 92.2 per cent in Eredivisie this season. De Jong is keenly aware of his surroundings and where other midfielders struggle against the press, he thrives on drawing in opponents.
Frenkie de Jong: Of the 177 players to have attempted more than 25 dribbles, De Jong has a better dribble success rate (86.2%) than any other player since the start of the 2017/18 Eredivisie season— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 23, 2019
For more player stats -- https://t.co/bxHlmKwlDq pic.twitter.com/oKAb8mNGRX
He’s one of the best around in receiving the ball facing his own goal, capable of turning his man with ease with the right touch into space and the acceleration to then pull away to launch an attack. It’s that ability to drive forward with the ball at surprising pace and close control that keeps him from being limited to a deep-lying role.
It’s also why this acquisition will lend some balance to the current Barcelona midfield. Expect him to work well alongside fellow accomplished passers in Sergio Busquets and Arthur Melo or Ivan Rakitic while also providing his share of work-rate and defensive astuteness.
Despite featuring in an Ajax side that dominates possession, the 21-year-old’s defensive contributions have been impressive, registering 1.5 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per game in the league this season. In comparison, Arthur has only managed 0.5 tackles and 0.2 interceptions per game.
His arrival is bound to ease the pressure on Lionel Messi who’s been burdened with most of the creative responsibility ever since the departures of first Xavi and then Andres Iniesta, with Philippe Coutinho having struggled in his first 12 months at the Nou Camp.
In Barcelona’s recent victory over Levante, Messi came off the bench and transformed Barcelona’s play. He instantly raised the tempo as he pulled the strings in the final third expertly, receiving possession in the right areas, laying it off and spreading play effortlessly.
It seems absurd to imagine the Argentine getting any better but with De Jong to link-up with, he could be afforded the luxury to get on the end of chances rather than create them on a more regular basis.
In his native Netherlands, De Jong has become the poster boy of the national team’s resurgence and given the influence he has on games at such a young age coupled with his general ‘totaalvoetbal’ nature, it would come as no surprise if he became a symbol for the Barcelona way in years to come. It’s in his DNA.
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