After being a constant topic of conversation among Manchester United’s supporters since May, Frenkie de Jong finally gave his side of one of the longest transfer sagas in recent history earlier this week.
The Barcelona midfielder was Erik ten Hag’s top target to strengthen his midfield options during the summer and United did all they could to try and ensure he got what he wanted. But despite agreeing a fee with Barcelona, following countless rounds of talks, they were unable to make a deal possible, leaving Ten Hag to look elsewhere for reinforcements.
De Jong, though, never had any desire to swap the Camp Nou for Old Trafford and recently admitted that he always wanted to stay in Spain. He stopped short of giving away too many details, but he made it crystal clear that he wasn’t fussed about moving to Old Trafford.
The Dutchman said: “I always wanted to stay at Barcelona this summer, and this is why I always remained calm in the summer. I can’t give too many details away.
“But look, the club has its own ideas and I have my own ideas, too, and sometimes these clash with each other. But at the end of the day things went okay.”
Once it became clear that they were going to have to look elsewhere, United hovered their recruitment microscope over Real Madrid’s squad and picked out Casemiro as the man they wanted. The Brazilian, who has started just once for United so far, was the type of midfielder that they had needed from the very start of the window, but he was a completely different type of player to De Jong.
The 4-0 defeat at Brentford, however, opened United’s eyes and made them realise they needed a defensive-midfielder. Failure to sign one would have resulted in one of the biggest backlashes from the fans in recent years.
Having already signed Christian Eriksen it was somewhat strange that they were continuing to pursue De Jong — a midfielder similar to the Dane, in the sense he likes to get on the ball and dictate the play — as opposed to a destroyer, such as Casemiro. Ten Hag’s pursuit of De Jong had made it clear that he wanted United to become a team that would control matches and boss possession.
If that remains Ten Hag’s long-term vision, it will be interesting to see what kind of midfielder United move for next. It is understood that signing another midfielder is on their to-do list as part of the next phase of the rebuilding project.
Jude Bellingham is the name on everyone’s lips while De Jong continues to get the odd mention here and there. But considering the English wonderkid will cost an extravagant amount of money, such is his potential and the excitement surrounding his future, and De Jong is still owed millions in deferred wages, United might need to look elsewhere.
If United are planning on waiting until next summer to continue developing their midfield, they might be able to land an established Premier League player in a cut-price deal. In fact, it might be too good an opportunity not to explore.
Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves is out of contract at Molineux in June 2024 and is yet to commit his future to the club by signing a new deal. He recently admitted that he thought he would leave the Midlands outfit during the summer, making it clear that he does not, seemingly, see his long-term future at Wolves.
Unsurprisingly, he has been linked with a plethora of big-name clubs in recent months and rightfully so; he is one of the best box-to-box midfielders in Europe and continues to improve year-on-year. He is capable of controlling matches, scoring goals and, if required, capable of dropping that little bit deeper and screening the back-four.
Only turning 26 next March, Neves is still several years away from reaching what will be considered his peak. He is a classy operator and his track record speaks for itself. Working in tandem with Joao Moutinho, he outclassed United at Old Trafford last season, leaving several supporters demanding that United sign him.
If Ten Hag wishes to continue heading down the route of recruiting a ball-playing, controlling midfielder, Neves should be a prime candidate. If he doesn’t put pen to paper by next summer, Wolves will have no choice but to cash in, in an attempt to avoid losing him for nothing 12 months later.