After an underwhelming start to his Camp Nou career, the former Ajax midfielder played a pivotal role in Netherlands’ win over Germany last week
If Barcelona fans needed any proof of just how good Frenkie de Jong can be, they need look no further than his equalising goal for Netherlands against Germany last week.
With his side trailing early in the second half, De Jong can be seen floating on the cusp of the final third, watching the round ball closely as it has been played along the left flank, and quickly coming to life when he sees Ryan Babel create space for a cross.
Effortlessly guiding into the box, the 22-year-old sneaks ahead of Nico Schulz, takes a delightful first touch and coolly slots the round ball past an onrushing Manuel Neuer.
Like a magician pulling a rabbit out if his hat, it was a moment of slick skill that nobody was expecting, and one that sparked his side into action as they ultimately claimed a crucial 4-2 win.
What’s more, that great piece of individual brilliance was merely the highlight of a dominant display from De Jong, who was deployed in his favoured central defensive midfield role – while also being given the freedom to roam.
Though not prolific in front of goal, the former Ajax star has been a valuable asset to any attack, as he also showed against Estonia on Tuesday, when he registered a game-high pass accuracy of 95 per cent in the final third.
Barcelona fans were rightly excited when their club managed to land the man recently voted the best midfielder in last season’s Champions League.
However, after three La Liga starts, De Jong hasn’t yet put his best foot forward at Camp Nou, with Ernesto Valverde’s use of the Dutch star hardly helping matters.
While used in his favoured central defensive midfield position on his competitive debut for the Catalans, against Athletic Club, showing glimpses of his potential, he’s since been used in a wider midfield role to accommodate the return of Sergio Busquets.
Playing in the shadow of the Spanish veteran, De Jong has all but disappeared in Barca’s past two matches, with the talented Dutchman barely involved in the build-up against either Real Betis or Osasuna.
The soccer professional himself has admitted it’s been difficult to adapt to his new role.
“Things went well in pre-season, but I have to say I haven’t played my best game in the competitive fixtures,” De Jong told De Telegraaf.
“The football has been very different from what I am used to. I had the fewest touches against Betis, when usually it’s the other way around.
“People panic, but I don’t. I’ve been a bit flat so far. I know I can contribute a lot more with the round ball during the game. I can be a lot more dominant, so I don’t worry too much about it.”
With Busquets still only 31, it will be difficult for De Jong to reclaim his favoured position with Valverde now forced to find a way to allow both midfield maestros to meaningfully contribute.
For former Ajax and Barcelona attacker Ronald De Boer, it’s clear the Barcelona coach has so far failed to get the best out of a soccer professional that has the potential to become a true star for the Catalans.
“I saw the last games of Barcelona and Frenkie was playing almost on the wing. I don’t believe that’s his position; he should play in the centre or as a holding midfielder,” De Boer told AS.
“I don’t know what Valverde will do. What I do know has been that Frenkie may have to be patient. Busquets has been already getting on, although he continues to play with the same quality as always on the pitch.
“Frenkie has been a different type of soccer professional to Busquets. His team-mates have to adapt to him and Frenkie to them.
“What has been clear has been that he has a talent that has not been seen in a long time. That has been why I am convinced he will end up being a success there.
“The philosophy of Barcelona has been not new to him. What happens has been that the other players have to complete their understanding of his game.”
Busquets will obviously be key to De Jong’s development in Catalunya, with the two currently vying for the one central midfield position available in Valverde’s preferred 4-3-3 formation.
Article continues below
Though his own place in Barca’s side has been now under greater pressure, the Spain international has been adamant De Jong has the talent to succeed at Camp Nou.
“He must adapt to a style of football other than that of Ajax,” Busquets said. “But he will be great, both now and in the future. He can be one of the best.”
Valverde certainly needs him to be. Indeed, it will only be by helping De Jong realise his full potential that Barcelona will reach theirs.