Frenkie de Jong joins Barcelona: why is he so special?

Frenkie de Jong will swap Ajax for Barcelona this summer – why are so many people so excited about the 21-year-old?

©Getty Images

Frenkie de Jong, the latest stellar talent to make his name at Ajax, is set to join Barcelona next summer. Still only 21, De Jong has long been touted as the next big thing – a once-in-a-generation player whose style straddles that of an old-style libero, a deep-lying playmaker and a more conventional central midfielder. No6, No8 and No10 all rolled into one.

But what exactly is it that makes him so special?

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THE FACTS

Watch De Jong in action for Ajax
Watch De Jong in action for Ajax
  • 10 May 2015: Senior debut for Willem II, coming on as a substitute against Den Haag two days before his 18th birthday.
  • 22 August 2015: Joins Ajax aged 18 but is loaned back to Willem II for the first half of the following season.
  • 25 January 2016: First professional goal in Jong Ajax's 2-0 defeat of NAC Breda.
  • 21 September 2016: Ajax debut in cup match against former club Willem II.
  • 6 September 2018: Senior Netherlands debut as half-time substitute in 2-1 friendly win against Peru.

  • 23 January 2019: Signs for Barcelona on a five-year deal.

THE PLAYER

De Jong is a multifunctional right-footed midfielder. He has fantastic balance and dribbling ability, while his distribution benefits from him always playing with his head up. He has the lot – acceleration, craft, control, tactical nous and sharp decision-making. He can change the game in the blink of an eye.

THE PRAISE

Five who starred for Ajax and Barcelona
Five who starred for Ajax and Barcelona

"I had an interview for the Willem II website, and was asked about my favourite player. Obviously most coaches name Cristiano Ronaldo or Leo Messi, but I said Frenkie De Jong. He was fantastic technically – a natural talent."
Jos Bogers, De Jong's Willem II's U15 coach

"Frenkie de Jong was a small, skinny lad with spindly legs five years ago. No one paid attention to him, but something struck me about when he receives the ball – that is still his biggest quality. I knew he was the one we had to get, and I didn't give up."
Marc Overmars, Ajax director of football

"He is always calm and always has the solution. He scans so well that he always knows how to go forward. You can hardly put him under pressure – that is such a great gift."
Erik ten Hag, Ajax coach

"His biggest quality? In a lot of situations he has the ability to postpone the decision when in possession, and then to give a pass from which everyone thinks: 'Hell yeah, excellent thinking, that's how simple it can be'. His view of the game is exceptional."
Ronald Koeman, Netherlands coach

"He's a really exciting signing for the club, both in terms of the present and the future. He's a great player with a really, really big future in front of him. We are hoping for the best for him, because his success will be the club's too. He's a great signing, a really great acquisition."
Ernesto Valverde, Barcelona coach

THE COMPARISONS

No prizes for guessing whose boots these are
No prizes for guessing whose boots these are©Getty Images

"I really think he is a revelation. You might laugh, but he is a better version of Franz Beckenbauer. People must interpret that properly. What I really mean is that he also has speed and passes easily. That's an enormous weapon."
Arie Haan, former Ajax and Netherlands midfielder

"He looks like Sergio Busquets in terms of playing style. He's young, but I think he can make a huge contribution now. He is seen as a beastly talent. De Jong's profile is exactly what Barcelona need."
Xavi Hernández, Barcelona's all-time leading appearance maker

"He really does have some touches of Johan Cruyff. That acceleration, that hair, that forward thinking. He is not a second Cruyff, but he really does have the essence of Cruyff. He is our big hope in dark days."
Valentijn Driessen, De Telegraaf newspaper's chief football correspondent

THE FUTURE

Very much in the mould of a modern-day Barcelona midfielder, De Jong is likely to have few issues fitting in at the Camp Nou. Given his technical qualities and eye for a pass, you could be forgiven for thinking he was schooled at La Masia. However, he might not walk straight into the team given he plays in the same position as Sergio Busquets, from whom he will look to learn and, ultimately, succeed.

How will Valverde fit De Jong into his side?
How will Valverde fit De Jong into his side?©AFP/Getty Images

Ivan Rakitić, Philippe Coutinho and Arthur will also provide stuff competition for a place in the first XI, but expect to see him cement a regular berth sooner rather than later.

THE PREDECESSORS

De Jong will become the latest in a long line of players to have represented both Ajax and Barça. While the likes of Ronald Koeman, Patrick Kluivert, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Luis Suárez did so so with pit stops elsewhere inbetween, Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Frank de Boer are among the most illustrious talents to have moved directly from Amsterdam to Catalonia.

Cruyff, of course, was the granddaddy of them all, winning all before him with Ajax including three European Cups. He was the ultimate exponent of Total Football for both club and country and enjoyed further success with Barcelona as a player and coach.

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