Why Frenkie de Jong could epitomise the Pep Guardiola project at Manchester City
If you happened to catch The Netherlands in action against France and Germany this past week, you perhaps would know where this article is coming from. The newest generations of all three of these greatly decorated nations contain some of Europe’s hottest youngsters - Kylian Mbappé, Ousmane Dembélé, Leroy Sané, Timo Werner, Joshua Kimmich, and Matthijs de Ligt, to name a few.
But it was a certain Dutchman named, Frenkie de Jong, who caught the spectator’s eye among his many talented counterparts. The 21-year old has not only taken the Eredivisie by storm this season, but also has European heavyweights - Manchester City and Barcelona battling for his signature.
Outrageously good on the ball, de Jong is the textbook Guardiola midfielder - calm, quick-minded, and highly imaginative. His ability to orchestrate the game as a deep-lying playmaker is almost Xavi-like.
In addition to the control and vision he possesses, de Jong almost certainly is a natural interceptor of the ball, shuttling between attack and defence, constantly pressing the opposition, and lunging into tackles.
He also easily gets out of tight positions with his visionary passing and unnatural dribbling. Consistent with the Pep philosophy, he would never keep the ball long enough, flicking and tricking the opposition with his feint touches and turns.
Whilst Koeman plays de Jong in his more natural position as a midfield metronome, Ajax boss, Erik ten Hag, has slotted de Jong at the centre-back position alongside his twin prodigy, Matthijs de Ligt.
According to Frenkie, it’s only an experiment in his young career, and will only help him grow in his more suited midfield position.
Quintessential to Guardiola’s ‘beautiful game’ at Manchester City is veteran midfielder, Fernandinho, who has recently been criticised by the media for tactical fouling. Pep’s script to Fernandinho at the start of every game is totally different from the rest of the team - Do the job.
City’s attacking prowess thrives on Fernandinho’s ability to constantly tackle, intercept, recover balls, and recycle. The Brazilian is slowly reaching the twilight of his career at the club where he has been labelled as almost irreplaceable. Star players like Agüero and Silva have somewhat overshadowed the Brazilian’s meteoric contributions at City over the last few years.
With Chelsea and Sarri robbing Guardiola of Jorginho this summer, signing Frenkie de Jong is almost like a necessity for the City hierarchy, and Guardiola knows de Jong is equivalent to three signings.
He can play the Fernandinho role in Pep’s conventional 4-3-3, as a midfielder in the double-pivot 3-4-3 formation, and has also shown his immense ability at the heart of the defence with Ajax this season. Guardiola's latest football crush could be the final piece of his already illustrative City team.
Dutch football has witnessed four elite generations of players. From Johan Cruyff in the 70s to the Koemans, Van Bastens, and Rijkaards of the 80s, to the 90s batch of Dennis Bergkamp and the yesteryear legends of Sneijder, Robben and Van Persie.
However, the Memphis Depays and Frenkie de Jongs of today have taken centre stage. This fresh influx of talent has given fans major hope after a few underwhelming years for the Oranje, and qualification to the UEFA Nations League finals means they are just getting started.