Manchester United

Erik ten Hag's analysis of Frenkie de Jong's best role

Tom Gott
Ten Hag & De Jong could be about to unite again
Ten Hag & De Jong could be about to unite again / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

During his time as Ajax manager, Erik ten Hag spoke at length about maximising the impact of in-demand midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who could be about to follow his fellow Dutchman to Manchester United this summer.

Ten Hag is running the show at Old Trafford these days and his top priority is to strike a deal to sign De Jong from Barcelona, with the two clubs close to finalising an agreement at around the €80m mark.

De Jong has endured a tricky few years at Barcelona, with many questioning his best role in the team, but that's something that Ten Hag seems to be aware of.

"We have really been looking to find ways to use [De Jong's] skills in the best manner," Ten Hag told Dutch Soccer Site in 2019. "Where can he play best, for the team and to showcase his talent. Everyone was screaming: Frenkie is the biggest talent, etc etc. Well yes. But, where? In midfield? Ok, but which role?

"His quality is that he makes the forwards perform better. He is a wanderer, an adventurer, he’s always on the move, like a shark. With the ball, often, but also without the ball. So if you put him on 6 [defensive midfield], he’s away too often. But you need to give him freedom, otherwise you can’t the best out of him.

"It wasn’t an easy puzzle, so I decided to play with two number 6s and only one attacking mid. And in this way, we can also dominate the half space, and force opponents to choose."

De Jong occasionally played at the base of Ajax's midfield alongside another midfielder keen on a fresh start, Donny van de Beek.

Van de Beek, an attacking midfielder by trade, spent the second half of last season on loan at Everton as his United career took another turn for the worst, but Ten Hag's arrival at Old Trafford could be the catalyst for change.

Just what Ten Hag has planned for Van de Beek remains to be seen, but it's unlikely that he'd be played deep alongside De Jong as the boss admitted the pair are a little too similar.

On whether he initially wanted Van de Beek as a permanent defensive midfielder, Ten Hag said: "This goes to show that plans are just plans, the reality needs to want it as well. And in reality, Donny is also a player who likes to be on the move.

"For both Donny and Frenkie it is a strength. So Lasse [Schone] fulfilled the role perfectly!"