Frenkie de Jong: Ajax's newest gift to football
“I have always been a midfielder, and I remain a midfielder."
A confident statement from a young starlet who is only scratching the surface of his potential!
Ajax’s recent renaissance not only on the national stage but international arena has been buoyed by a crop of emerging Dutch talents (De Ligt, Justin Kluivert and Van De Beek to name a few) but it is Frenkie De Jong that has scouts clambering over themselves to secure a trip to watch this player in action.
Profile and position
Stationed as an all-round midfield hub, De Jong has been favourably compared by scouts to a combination of Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta. Playing as the deep-lying midfielder playmaker for Ajax (the number 6), the young man fills a variety of roles from being the screen to the centre-backs when defending to starting attacking phases of play whether that be with a quick outlet pass or a driving run through the middle of the pitch.
Luka Modric, who has gone onto a be a complete central midfielder is the man the Dutch midfielder should be modelling his game on and if he continues to progress at his current rate he will be more than likely to emulate the Croatian star.
His versatility does not end there though and the past seasons under different coaches has seen him deployed as a centre-back when Ajax have moved to 3-4-3 as well as the second pivot in midfield alongside a variety of different partners (Schone, Ziyech) and each time Frenkie De Jong’s quality has shone through like a gleaming beacon in the nights sky.
Born in Arkel, located close to Rotterdam, De Jong grew up surrounded by football with his whole family massive Feyenoord fans but chose to move to Willem II to begin his burgeoning football career after being spotted playing for local side ASV Arkel.
It was not long before the young midfielder was promoted through the age levels but only managed to make one senior appearance for Willem in 2015 before being snapped up by Ajax.
Here De Jong was awarded the talent of the year for Ajax’s youth side Ajax during the 2016-2017 season but it was not till the midfielder turned 20 did he make his debut for the senior side, whilst also making appearances for the Dutch international youth sides.
Now having made his debut and several outstanding performances a move away from the Eredivisie is looking ever more likely.
Watching Frenkie De Jong in action is something to behold. The technical ability of the young midfielder allied with his footballing intelligence makes him the stand out player in 9/10 matches he plays.
As previously compared in this article to Modric, there are few weaknesses to the young players game. He dribbles past players with unerring ease and grace as if almost sliding past them and not only that he then uses the ball to deadly effect with a pinpoint and perfectly weighted pass.
The past season in the Eredivise he has accrued a 92% passing average whilst also creating 32 chances and 8 assists from his position in central midfield. (Stats from Squawka)
On numerous occasions, De Jong has created chances by driving from central midfield and beating multiple opponents. One such game against Roda earlier in the season, he gathered the ball in central midfield picked his head up and drove past at least 2 players before finding a pass to Dolberg for an attempt on goal.
This is a usual occurrence as the midfielder averages 1.1 successful dribbles a game, leaving opposition managers figuring out how to stifle the player. As within the same game, Roda sat off De Jong, gathering the ball from his centre-back he span and launched a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Justin Kluivert who cut inside his man to score a wonderful goal.
Frenkie De Jong shares similarities with numerous midfielders but has the ability to potentially combine them all replicating heroes of years past especially Franz Beckenbauer. Like Toni Kroos, teammates know they can pass to him in a variety of positions or to either foot. During Ajax’s Europa league run of 2016-2017, De Jong came on in the final against Man United and looked like the German midfielders replica.
Dropping deep and moving to space smoothly and innately he was a constant outlet for his team and they looked to get the ball to the player as much as they could, moving the ball logically and into the correct areas to try and pull his side back into the contest.
Playing defensive midfield, De Jong is busy and makes tackles and interceptions in equal numbers (averaging 1.2 a game of each across all competitions). These skills alone allow his manager to place and use him in a variety of situations and with the right coaching will be a fulcrum of his side of immeasurable quality.
The other side of the game
Standing at 5 ft 9, De Jong is not afraid to get stuck into the battleground the centre of midfield can become. Of the duals, he took part in he won 71%, a pleasant return for a young player who’s gift with the ball would see people forgive his potential disinterest in becoming involved in a 50/50 tackle.
If there is an area scout and have pointed to in the past as a potential area of concern is the player’s self-confidence. Playing from centre-back, it was quoted he was just as likely to cost the team a goal let alone help them score one. "He needs to get back in to midfield as soon as possible. At the moment, he poses a threat to his own team, as much as to the opposition," ELF Foetbal journalist Geert Beckers told ESPN FC.
Central midfield is where he is at home and the only occasions where De Jong has struggled so far is when his teammates have not been on the same wavelength as him, which has been the case at both club and international level.
This can make his performances seem erratic, with passes into space where teammates either hadn’t occupied or not moving into. Allied with a more cohesive unit and better players, De Jong’s game raises to another level while helping to shape a team’s game.
Goals are not a big part of the midfielder’s game, scoring no goals this season while only achieving a 25% shot accuracy. This is in large part due to his positioning on the pitch. Being the team’s orchestrator has its consequences but as his future progresses there is obvious potential to move him further forward, which could potentially increase his output in this area.
Scouts are no strangers to Amsterdam with Ajax’s burgeoning collection of talented players but De Jong might be the most talented of them all. Holland’s absence from the World Cup robbed the youngster of a stage to show his talents but there are plenty of teams that would like to sign the young player. Barcelona are the one’s credited most with securing his signature, which is a more than ideal addition for a club looking to get younger and seek a replacement for the legendary Andres Iniesta.
Playing alongside Barca’s collection of stars seems a natural stage for the Dutchman but there are plenty of clubs who would be foolish not to attempt a bid for the player.