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Xavi's De Jong dilemma: Why Barcelona could sell €75m signing this summer

12:00 GMT+4 05/02/2022
Frenkie de Jong Barcelona 2021-22
The former Ajax ace looked like a perfect player for the Blaugrana, given the links between the two clubs, but he has failed to justify his price tag

When Frenkie de Jong signed for Barcelona, it seemed certain the club’s future would be built around him.

However, there is now a chance that he could be sold this summer.

De Jong has not lived up to Barcelona’s expectations – and vice versa.

Both hope and believe the situation will change, with much depending on the second half of the season.

Barca still have plenty of financial, sporting and institutional problems and are already out of this season's Champions League.

However, there have been signs of improvement under new coach Xavi, who has just been given the attacking reinforcements he wanted during the January transfer window by sporting director Mateu Alemany, whose clever recruitment bodes well for the Blaugrana’s future.

"[The club's struggles] have surprised me sometimes, but I still think the same about Barca,” De Jong told NOS in a recent interview. 

“It is not the best club at this moment, but it is still the most beautiful club in the world.”
De Jong’s €75 million (£65m/$85m) move from Ajax to Barcelona in 2019 made complete sense at the time, given the club’s shared history and footballing philosophy. 

He was initially touted as Barca’s long-term replacement for Sergio Busquets, but it has since become clear he is happier with the ball at his feet driving forward and taking risks - ideas which are anathema to the Spanish pass-master.

De Jong made a solid start to his Camp Nou career under Ernesto Valverde but then the coach was dramatically replaced at the helm by Quique Setien, who proved a disastrous appointment.

Barcelona collapsed during the closing stages of the 2019-20 title race, gifting the title to Real Madrid, and De Jong was just one of a number of players who saw their form dip drastically during the second half of the season.

However, Ronald Koeman was hired in the summer of 2020 and, unsurprisingly, the arrival of the former Netherlands boss proved a positive development for De Jong, who was unleashed in a box-to-box role by his compatriot.

However, Atletico Madrid won the title and, after Lionel Messi left last summer, things began to fall apart this season for Koeman, who was sacked in October. 

By that point, De Jong was in decline again. Being asked to lead the Barcelona team at 24 seemed too much for him.

Even with Xavi having helped lift the sense of doom and gloom around the club, the usual gleam has disappeared from De Jong’s eye. He looks tired, bordering on broken, when speaking after games.

He certainly wasn’t in favour of Koeman’s dismissal. “I don’t think changing the coach is the solution,” De Jong said at the end of September.

Indeed, it’s worth noting that as well as having worked well with Koeman, his partner Mikky Kiemeney, is also close to the coach’s wife Bartina.

This close bond could perhaps explain why De Jong remains in the doldrums.

Xavi has already drawn excellent performances out of Gavi, Nico Gonzalez and Pedri, but De Jong seems a harder nut to crack.

A calf strain hasn’t helped but there’s no denying that De Jong’s displays have been underwhelming at best.

He was even dropped for the recent Copa del Rey last-16 defeat by Athletic Club, showing he is no longer untouchable.

The international break might allow him to rise to full fitness ahead of a crucial run of fixtures to follow, starting with Sunday’s clash against Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou.

A derby with Espanyol follows, along with a Europa League double-header with Napoli and a trip to Valencia.

“I can improve a lot, but [my form] is not a disaster either; it’s average,” the midfielder argued after he scored a late winner at Alaves on January 23. 

“Now that I’ve scored a goal, people will say I played well, but that’s not how it is.”

De Jong was unhappy with recent criticism in local newspapers, and despite his disappointing performances, he makes a fair point that at times he gets singled out, despite not playing worse than some of those beside him.

After Sergio Busquets was criticised by fans on Twitter, some local journalists rallied to support him, while De Jong is not necessarily afforded the same protection as his Catalan counterparts. 

It is a regular issue with reporting around Barcelona, where the culprits put forward in newspaper columns tend not to be those raised in La Masia.

Xavid recently stated: “Frenkie has to be an important player, and he will be.”

The next four months could well be key, though.

Barcelona are interested in signing Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland but, to do that, they will need to raise money in the summer. 

De Jong is one of the few players on the books who could be sold for a significant fee, outside of feted youngsters Pedri, Gavi and Ansu Fati. 

Given the impressive performances of the young midfielders, plus Xavi’s faith in former team-mate Busquets, Barcelona would not suffer in the short term.

From De Jong’s perspective, clubs like Liverpool, Manchester City and Bayern Munich would offer a better chance of immediate success than Barcelona, who have only won a Copa del Rey since his signing, and he might also feel more appreciated at Anfield, the Etihad or the Allianz Arena.

He certainly won’t be short of suitors, as many are willing to attribute the player’s struggles to the chaos that has engulfed Camp Nou over the past few years.

Currently, neither Barcelona nor De Jong can say they are holding up their end of the bargain struck in 2019, so if things carry on like this, a parting of ways would not come as a surprise. 

However, De Jong’s dream of a long and successful stay at Barcelona could yet be realised, if both he and his team click between now and the end of the season.