A style of play that isn’t similar to any youngster. A unique style. For that reason he belongs to a group of talents for whom it was good to join Ajax at an older age. In the end, his own and unique style brought him to Ajax (U21). This is the story of this unique player: Frenkie de Jong.
‘The €1 Transfer’
During the 2014-2015 season, Frenkie made his official Willem II U19 debut when he was 17 years old. He made his debut against… you guessed it: Ajax U19. Only six months later, he made his official first team debut for Willem II. Not long after, both Ajax and PSV wanted to sign the midfielder. Ajax’ interest became very serious after the EURO U19 in Greece. PSV had already contacted Frenkie’s agent at the time, but the negotiations were progressing very slowly. After some good conversations with Frank de Boer, Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars and Orlando Trustfull at the Toekomst, Frenkie moved to Ajax for the symbolic amount of €1. Willem II tried to circumvent some agreements with RKC Waalwijk. The two clubs share their youth academy: Willem II / RKC Waalwijk Academy, where Frenkie played football for about 10 years from the age of 8. However, the clubs managed to stipulate a relatively large share of a future sum in the deal. “I have chosen for Ajax, because I think this club is the best for my development. In Amsterdam you can play in the first team when you are good enough. And then age does not matter. Whether you are 17 or 35. Perhaps you have even a bigger chance when you are young. I still have to be much better. Especially the switch from attack to defense must be faster. Other points for improvement are movement and intensity after passing the ball and putting pressure on opponents”, Frenkie told Omroep Brabant after his transfer to Ajax.
First appearances for Ajax (U21)
In January 2016, Frenkie de Jong made his debut for Ajax U21 after being called back early from his loan spell to Willem II (what was part of the deal in the summer). In the 2015-2016 season the midfielder made 15 appearances for Ajax U21 (2 goals, 3 assists).
2016-2017 Season: Official Debut & Talent of the Season
In the following summer, Marcel Keizer was appointed as trainer of Ajax U21 and once again many talents were promoted to the second team. Among them were Abdelhak Nouri, Noussair Mazraoui, Carel Eiting and Matthijs de Ligt. It was a foreshadowing the season that would follow. Together with Abdelhak Nouri, Donny van de Beek and sometimes Carel Eiting, Frenkie formed an amazingly talented midfield. U21-matches at De Toekomst were suddenly sold out and lines for tickets were long. Ajax U21 played some great matches in the Keizer era, especially thanks to its midfield. It was really enjoyable to watch, and that is pretty special for a team full of talents. Most of the time it’s quite difficult to form a good team of them, especially in Ajax U21 where talents join the first team or are promoted from the U19’s. The U21 squad can change every week, since it is a development team and the main focus is on the first team. If a talent is playing well, he will join the first team for example.
Ajax U21 finished second that season, just behind VVV Venlo. More importantly: the talents developed tremendously and many of them made their first team debut or were promoted to the first team later on. At the end of May (2017) Frenkie was awarded ‘Jupiler League Talent of the Year’ and Abdelhak Nouri was awarded ‘Jupiler League Player of the Year’.
On 21 September 2016, Frenkie de Jong made his official debut for Ajax. Out of all clubs he made his official debut in the Cup fixture against Willem II, as if it was fate. It was the same match in which Abdelhak Nouri and Matthijs de Ligt made their first team debut. It shows how good the talents played at the time under Marcel Keizer in Ajax U21. They forced it on the basis of their talent, but also on the basis of their form. After his official debut, Frenkie was called up in the squad on match days more and more often. He also played more often under Peter Bosz in the Cup fixtures and the Europa League.
In the summer of 2017, Frenkie was fully promoted to the first team. What followed was the most horrible summer in club history. Due to disagreement in the Technical Heart (board system Johan Cruyff introduced), head coach Peter Bosz left Ajax and Marcel Keizer was moved forward as his successor, who made Ajax U21 play fantastic football. Less than a week later, Abdelhak Nouri collapsed during a friendly against Werder Bremen in Austria…
Abdelhak and Frenkie played a lot of games together in Ajax U21. They enjoyed playing alongside each other. They destroyed midfields by playing tiki-taka football or by giving one ridiculously good pass. You could see how much it meant to them when they both made their debut in Ajax’ first team. During one of the last matches of the (2016-2017) season, Frenkie scored his first goal for Ajax and Appie was one of the first players to celebrate it with him. Appie was close to every player in the team, but especially to Frenkie.
The season became a back page in the Ajax history books. At the end of December, Marcel Keizer was fired. Frenkie played 26 games that season, 13 as central defender in a libero role. Although it is not his position, Frenkie played great in that position. He could move the play, claim the ball, dribble into midfield and find the free man, which he is only doing better in the current season as a midfielder. However, the season ended in a disappointing way, also for Frenkie. In February he got injured and he would therefore no longer play a match that season.
Current Season (2018-2019)
Because Frenkie could not play any matches at the end of the 2017-2018 season, he started the new season in good health. Despite interest from various clubs, he wanted to stay at Ajax. Under Erik ten Hag he got and kept a place in the starting eleven.
In the current season you can actually still see the same style of play that he showed as Libero, only now he is one of the controlling midfielders. Frenkie is positioning low on the pitch to be free and then dribbles into the midfield or tries to find the free man. With his vision he finds the free man in the half spaces very easily and Ajax uses that a lot this season. With his dribbles, for example, he makes sure that he will pass his opponent. After this, the other opponents will have to make decisions off the ball (‘Do I put pressure on De Jong or not?’), which often results in a free man that Frenkie can pass the ball too. It looks so incredibly easy when Frenkie does it. As a midfielder he also has to take care of the balance in the team. And that was something that National Team coach Ronald Koeman was looking for as well. On 6 September 2018, Frenkie made his debut for the Dutch National Team. In his first 45 minutes, he immediately made a great impression. Not even necessarily with his own game, but mainly because he actually brought balance in the team and let other players perform better. Since Frenkie plays in the Oranje, Wijnaldum is finally performing at the same level that he showed during club games.
Erik ten Hag, Ajax’ head coach, about Frenkie’s transfer: “It’s fantastic, especially for him. He now has the certainty to go to a beautiful club this summer. That is beautiful. For him, but also for Ajax. As a trainer I am of course also a little sad about it, because if you lose such a beautiful player, that is a pity. We have only been able to enjoy him for a short period, but luckily we will still have him here for the next couple of months. Barça is an excellent choice. The style of football fits him perfectly. The philosophy that prevails there also prevails here. His style fits well with it. We have created a position for him in midfield this season, that does his qualities justice and lets him perform the best he can. We started to play a little different to adapt it to him. And he fulfills that role tremendously. You can see him grow more in every game. At Barça, he will also find his way automatically.” [NOS, 24.01.19]
Due to his fantastic play in the Eredivisie and mostly the UEFA Champions League – in where he made his debut against AEK – , the rumors around the midfielder got stronger by the week. The interest of FC Barcelona, PSG and Manchester City became most serious. On the 23rd of january 2019, Barcelona won the race for his signature.
📂 | Portfolio #1:
Frenkie de Jong 💫
➡️ Ajax signs Frenkie for the symbolic amount of €1
— Ajax Youth Academy (@AjaxYA) 25 januari 2019
Barça – Q&A @Youngcules
Would he instantly fit Barça’s style of play because of the Ajax DNA?
Yeah, it may take some time to get used to everything, but Frenkie is a unique player who claims the ball and moves play with his passing and dribbles. He already showed this in the first team of Ajax, but also on his debut in the Dutch National Team. Normally the step from Ajax to Barca is huge. The last time an ‘outfield player’ made the step to Barca was in 1999. At that time Jari Litmanen took the step to Catalonia. Frenkie is a smart player and his style fits perfectly with Ajax and therefore also with Barça.
What is actually his best position? Many Culers see him Busquets successor at defensive midfield. Where on the pitch did he play mostly during his academy times?
His best positions are in the number 6 or 8 role, where he can divide the game better with his passes and dribbles. Also he can claim the ball more in these positions and switch the play. In the youth of Willem II (mostly as a 10) and for Ajax U21 he was playing in every midfield position. In the U21’s it was depending on which first team players were coming back to the U21’s. Sometimes Donny van de Beek played in the U21’s, so he was playing as 8. In that case Abdelhak Nouri was moved to the 10 spot and Frenkie was playing as a 6. So, most of the time he played as 8 or 6.
Frenkie might be familiar with the position already, but do you think he has the level to mark an era at Barça by playing as Libero in that position?
No, not really. Although he may shift backwards a bit sometimes to ask for the ball, that will not be his permanent position. But you never know for sure. At Ajax there were defensive problems at the time, as a result of which Marcel Keizer used him as a Libero. That is how it started. On Wednesday, after signing his contract, his father also gave an interview in which he expected and indicated that Barça has a somewhat more attacking role in mind for Frenkie. So with that knowledge he will likely not be played as Libero.
What are his weaknesses?
Sometimes he still tends to dribble too much instead of passing the ball earlier. In the beginning of the season he used to dribble too much in dangerous areas as well, but he is still very young and learning. In the UEFA Champions League matches he did better and better. At Ajax he was getting this freedom to dribble and ask for the ball, which explains the frequency of him dribbling forward and taking some risk.
We all know that Frenkie has dreamed for a long time about playing with Leo Messi. But how do you actually think those two will link up?
It is difficult to say now because we do not know exactly where he is going to play. Both have the tendency to claim or ask for the ball, so it’s interesting how that will work out in the beginning. Frenkie will be the player who can shift the play or start an attack. Messi is Messi, so with his runs Frenkie can assist him perfectly (if Frenkie is playing as 8 or 10, indeed). With Messi’s, but also with Suárez and Dembele their movements, a very good link can arise.
What do you think Frenkie’s ceiling is?
That is really difficult to estimate, but he adapts himself to every team he is playing in. He almost pulls the game immediately to him, but it’s a bit of a wait and see how that will be with Barça because he gets that role and freedom here. He will have to prove himself to the experienced and big players, but we do not really doubt that he will succeed. It may take some time, but after that he will get into the starting eleven and possibly grow into a ‘Dutch Busquets’. We do not like to compare players to others, but with ‘Dutch Busquets’ we mean in this his part of the game and value or importance for the team.
— Ajax Youth Academy (@AjaxYA) 23 januari 2019