He’s 21 years old, hasn’t had a full season in Ajax 1, but already is he the new leader of Oranje (on the pitch) and the most talked about Dutch talent since… Memphis probably.
Frenkie de Jong. Gifted. But also intelligent and levelheaded. An important quality, both in terms of football intelligence (decision making) and generic intelligence. Everyone knows his story by now. In summary. Grew up in Brabant (PSV territory) but in a family of Feyenoord fans. Both clubs courted Frenkie for years, but Ajax got him in. Rumour has it, that Ajax really took the opportunity to whoo the youngster. When he visited De Toekomst (the Ajax youth Academy “The Future”), Bergkamp, Jaap Stam, Marc Overmars, Ronald de Boer and Edwin van de Sar all popped in to shake the lad’s hand. He decided to stay at Willem II until he finished school and joined Ajax.
Not long after breaking into the Ajax 1 team, most top clubs in Europe knew it for sure. The youngster they had on their radar made the final step up and would be ripe for a deal. Bayern Munich, Barca, Real Madrid, Man City, Spurs, they’re all keen to join in on the hunt for Frenkie de Jong.
De Jong has demonstrated in big games, that he’s able to perform. With Ajax in the Champions League, with Oranje in the Nations League, he makes it seem easy. And even though Frenkie plays “behind the ball” in a holding role, Feyenoord coach Gio van Bronckhorst decided to change his line up and tactics to take care of De Jong, with Jens Toornstra coming in the first team to manage the youngster. But to no avail. Toornstra’s first foul came in minute 2. A clumsy and actually quite mean-spirited step with the studs on the calf. Worthy of a red card.
From that moment on, it was clear that Feyenoord and Toornstra weren’t their usual self. Van Persie played as #9. Jorgensen operated as a false winger on the left and Toornstra played in the #10 role but only to step onto De Jong’s toes when possible. As a manmarker in the playmaker position.
It’s logical though. Van Persie doesn’t have the legs to deal with the playmaker/holding midfielders De Jong and Schone. But Feyenoord did want to pressure high up the pitch, so… this line up could work. But the Rotterdam team was so uptight that first Jens made a nasty foul to be followed by St Juste’s stupid hack on Tagliafico, resulting in Jerry’s fasted red card in Klassieker history.
|698/619 (89%)||Passes/Good (percentage)||332/253 (76%)|
|164/73 (45%)||Duels/Won (percentage)||164/91 (55%)|
|35/17 (49%)||Aerial duels/Won (percentage)||35/18 (51%)|
After the red card, Feyenoord was lost. The confidence decreased even more and it was unclear how to proceed. Van Persie and Jorgensen decided to keep the press on, where possible, but half of the Feyenoord team didn’t participate. Usually, when playing with 10, teams will go to a 4-4-1 and aim for damage control but the timing in the Feyenoord team and the communication about when to press and when to drop deep was gone. And with the fact that Ajax has a better player than Feyenoord on every position, it makes it very hard. Only Berghuis might be good enough for this Ajax, most other Feyenoord players will have to accept being second-tier to the Sons of Gods.
It is telling that a young kid in midfield is the reason for Feyenoord to change their tactics and playing style. But Feyenoord isn’t alone. Benfica did it too, in the CL match last week. Gedson Fernades became Frenkie’s guard but despite that, the former Willem II playmaker was able to dominate the game and become one of the key players on the pitch, just like he got the Man of the Match award after the Feyenoord game.
How is it that Frenkie de Jong can play the way he plays? Well, for starters: the team is set up to get the most out of him. Daley Blind and Mathijs de Ligt have exceptional qualities for a centre back: great build up pass, wonderful ball skills and technique and good tactical vision. They both have their eyes forward always. Lasse Schone, the other holding mid is also a player with the skill to accelerate the game and as the two full backs will push forward and force the wingers of the opponent back, there is a quartet of Ajax players playing opposite 3 opponents. And all four are wonderful players on the ball. And should the pass not be possible, no worries, Frenkie simply drops all the way back next to Blind to offer an outball. As he has the ability to swivle and dribble his way into midfield.
The differences between Clasie and De Jong are interesting to observe and demonstrate the difference in intentions between Ajax and Feyenoord. Both players are the deep lying playmakers with the task to accelerate the game where possible. De Jong had 4 times as many passes as Clasie. And that is not just a result of the red card, as De Jong is constantly sought and found by his team mates, which is less the case for Clasie.
Clasie is definitely more a passer. De Jong is more a dribbler. He is sometimes called a postman, but it’s not fair. His quality is to draw players towards him, when he dribbles, allowing him to create a man more situation by taking the opponent on or by passing to the free man. De Jong is an old-fashioned playmaker like Fernando Redondo or Gunther Netzer who can play from a controlling position, as he has learned to defend and re-capture possession when needed.
Ajax already received an offer for 70M euros for the player and as the season wears on, that number will increase, with allegedly an 80M offer in the making by Man City. This kid will leave Ajax next summer. The biggest objective Overmars has, is to make sure he’s not gone in the winter break.
Obviously, there are other players high on scouting lists. Mathijs de Ligt will have to cost a similar amount as the 19 year old captain has everything to become a world class phenomenon. Andre Onana is on the hit list of Spurs and Argentine captain Tagliafico will probably not stay much longer either, with several Italian and Spanish clubs preparing offers.
Enjoy these players while you can!