A Transfer Debacle
Manchester United’s move for Frenkie de Jong seems to have spanned the entire transfer window up to this point. With the appointment of new manager Erik ten Hag, it was no surprise that the Dutchman would want his former star player to be the keystone to his Manchester United rebuild. It has been rumoured that de Jong, alongside Jurriën Timber and Darwin Núñez, were ten Hag’s three priority Man United signings; however, the new manager now faces the likelihood that the club will fail to sign any of his main transfer targets this summer. Manchester United will need to strengthen in midfield with the departures of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic leaving them very light in the position.
The de Jong saga has been a strange one, even for a club as unfortunate in the transfer market in recent years as Manchester United. The club seemed intent on signing the player from cash-strapped Barcelona and offered a fee of around £65 million. This fee plus add-ons appeared to take an age in itself to reach an agreement on, but it was quickly rendered pointless as two essential pieces of information became available.
Firstly Barcelona asked Frenkie De Jong to defer a giant £17 million in future wages to help ensure the future of the club. This is money that de Jong understandably is not willing to part without and it seems United are uninterested in dramatically increasing their fee to cover those wages. Finally and most importantly according to reports, Frenkie de Jong does not want to leave Barcelona and he does not want to join Manchester United.
It seems unthinkable that any serious club would waste almost 2 months of the transfer window arranging a deal for a player that doesn’t have any interest in joining them, but Manchester United’s transfer incompetence in recent years might just make it so.
Why Frenkie de Jong?
From a statistical point of view, Frenkie de Jong is a bit of a unicorn in terms of his quality. He is an energetic box-to-box midfielder who can also play as a false nine with an excellent range of passing and with the ability to press at a high tempo for 90 minutes. If we only looked at that we would find that Matteo Guendouzi is the most comparable player in Europe’s top leagues.
No disrespect to the Frenchman as his form has been decent since leaving Arsenal, but the announcement of his signings over de Jong would bring so much fan disappointment that the Glazers may actually be forced to step down from the club. The reason ten Hag wants de Jong so badly is he needs a midfielder that can fit straight into his system and help the other players around him settle into this new way of playing. de Jong is among the best carriers of the ball in Europe with 7.08 per 90 minutes played enough to put him in the top 6%, while also being in the top 5% of players likely to receive a progressive pass.
This combination is what makes the player so dynamic and is rare to find at the highest levels of the game So while there is no direct replacement for Frenkie de Jong who can operate at the highest level there are some players that can offer something similar to the Dutchman.
Potential Man United Signings: The Former Wonderkind
Renato Sanches was once arguably the most promising box-to-box midfielder in all of Europe. Enough that by the time he was 19 he was a regular in the Portuguese national team and had just earned himself a €35 million move to Bayern Munich. A move that also contained a staggering €45 million in potential add-ons. The faith that both Bayern and Benfica had in the player showed his potential was massive. Sanches also played a part in Portgual winning Euro 2016 with some big performances off of the bench.
Unfortunately, Sanches couldn’t break into the Bayern team and he found himself loaned out to Premier League side Swansea City. At Swansea, the Portuguese midfielder was clearly uninterested and not at all ready to be part of a Premier League relegation fight. The player’s stock dropped and after two more seasons of failing to play regularly for Bayern the player was eventually sold to Lille.
This is where things began to change for Sanches who has been excellent since moving to the French League. The player was a regular for a Lille side that has wrestled the Ligue 1 title away from a star-studded PSG side and also fought his way back into the Portuguese National side even though he had been dropped during his time at Bayern.
Sanches is an energetic midfielder who is comfortable receiving the ball from his defenders and breaking the opposition press with his great range of passing or by carrying the ball into more dangerous areas using his strength and dribbling ability. This is highlighted by his statistics. Sanches completes 6.79 progressive passes and 7.97 progressive carries per 90 minutes played.
For context, this puts him in the top 4% in both categories amongst midfielders in the top European leagues. Sanches is a player that is regularly involved in the attack once the ball is up the pitch as well as he creates 3.99 actions leading to a shot on goal per 90 minutes. This puts Sanches in the top 3% amongst players in his position.
There will be doubts about Sanches due to his underperformance at Swansea and because he hasn’t played in a side that played the way Erik Ten Hag does, but at just 24 years old with a great statistical profile the Portuguese international seems built to play in that kind of team.
Potential Man United Signings: An English Captain
It is very unlikely that Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse has ever been on the radar of Erik ten Hag but he absolutely should be on the the potential Man United signings. The newly capped England international midfielder has finally begun to gain some of the praise that he has deserved for years at Southampton. Ward-Prowse is exceptionally reliable, technically excellent and a model pro to everyone around him. These are traits that have absolutely deserted United over the last few years and it is probably a good idea for the club to sign some players that are known to be good apples.
It isn’t just his personality that makes Ward-Prowse a potential buy for Manchester United, it’s his performances on the football pitch over the last decade at Southampton. At just 27 years old the midfielder has represented The Saints on 364 occasions and shows no signs of slowing down. Ward-Prowse recently became the first player in Premier League history to play every single minute of football across two full Premier League seasons and also would likely have added a third season to that if he wasn’t suspended for two games last season.
Ward-Prowse isn’t just playing more football than ever but his goal output has increased over the years as well. Last season the midfielder scored 10 goals and assisted 5 in 36 Premier League games. Anyone contributing numbers like that should be on the radar of all the top clubs in his division. Finally, we have Ward-Prowse’s dead-ball ability.
According to data analysts, OPTA the player has the best free-kick conversion stats in the history of the Premier League. Truly Ward-Prowse is a wizard from free-kick situations and that alongside his ability to play every minute of every game makes him an asset to any team. The player also has the ability to be creative in open play with 3.16 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes played. Enough to put the player in the top 10% of midfielders in the top European leagues.
The downside to Ward-Prowse is that he has never been required to be the player making the progressive passes and movements when his side is in possession. He is often the player receiving the ball after the opposition’s press has already been broken. Still relatively young and with a good range of passing it is possible that James Ward-Prowse could pick up these skills and become the player that ten Hag wants, so don’t count out a move for the Southampton captain just yet.
“Hes the best taker i’ve ever seen”Pep Guardiola
Potential Man United Signings: A European Champion
Easily the most accomplished player of the potential Man United signings, Nicolò Barella, is the outstanding midfielder in the Italian Seria A. The 25-year-old International midfielder was a key part of the Inter Milan side that ended the Juventus decade-long reign over Italian football and was also brilliant for the Italy side that overcame the English on home soil to win Euro 2020.
Like Sanches, Barella is outstanding at being the first player that receives the ball from his defenders and carry it upfield. His passing ability is excellent as is his ability to dribble the ball past the opposition press. From a statistical point of view, Barella is probably the most comparable to Frenkie de Jong as not only is he in the top 10% of progressive passing players in Europe, he is in the top 5% of players receiving those progressive passes with 4.78 per 90 minutes. If it is absolutely fundamental for Manchester United to recruit a player as similar to de Jong as possible then they shouldn’t look any further than Barella.
Unlike the other players on this list, Erik ten Hag may have a hard time convincing Barella to make the move to Manchester. Italian sides are generally happy to sell players as they don’t generate large amounts of Television income, but in this case, Inter Milan can offer the player a larger chance of winning trophies and playing in the Champions League than United can. We have seen with Frenkie de Jong and even Cristiano Ronaldo that a lack of Champions League football makes Manchester United a less appealing option than they used to be. If the Dutchman was able to overcome this hurdle then Barella is the level of player that would soon have United fans forgetting the long and unsuccessful pursuit of de Jong.
Will Frenkie de Jong end up in Manchester? If not which Man United signings would you like to see? Let us know what you think! If you enjoyed this content then follow me on Twitter @AzLynchy and also make sure to follow @FootballOTH for more football content!
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