Manchester United midfielder Donny van de Beek is believed to be working on a new fitness programme ahead of the 2021/22 season in the hope of a better second campaign than his first, but the club now needs to give him the chance to prove himself
There has never been any doubt about Van de Beek’s quality. He was good enough to play a major role as Ajax got within a kick of the 2019 Champions League final and was nominated for the Ballon d’Or that year as a result. United saw fit to agree a £40m deal to sign him last summer and Real Madrid arguably would have signed him before that had they had the capital available.
Van de Beek even scored on his Premier League debut when he came off the bench in United’s opening game of last season. But that was pretty much as good as it got for him.
For whatever reason, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t seem to have enough faith in him. It was November before Van de Beek started his first Premier League game and he only started four times in the league all season – two of those were in the final two weeks of the season when a top four place was secure and the pressure to get results was off.
At one time, United had considered offering Van de Beek to Borussia Dortmund as a sweetener in the Jadon Sancho negotiations, while it was more recently reported that Van de Beek has been the subject of ‘tentative enquiries’ from clubs in Italy, Spain and Germany. But the player himself is said to be keen to stay and fight for his place at Old Trafford.
When he did infrequently appear in the second half of the season in particular, Van de Beek looked devoid of confidence and match fitness. He was often off the pace and looked out of place.
In the context of a pandemic and the restrictive protocols in place, last summer was probably the worst time to swap clubs, especially overseas. But this summer has provided an opportunity for Van de Beek, with his withdrawal from Euro 2020 through injury arguably a blessing in disguise.
Having some time off will have done him plenty of good, both mentally and physically. Yet improving his physical condition, perhaps the single biggest factor which stopped him making the desired impact in the vastly different world of Premier League football, has also been at the forefront of his mind.
The Athletic has reported that Van de Beek has sought the help of a specialist training centre in Amsterdam and, in conjunction with United’s medical and training staff, has set about working on building his physical strength and gaining muscle. The effect of that programme was noticeable when the 24-year-old appeared for the first time in pre-season against Brentford last week.
If Van de Beek is now fitter and stronger, he could have a significant role to play this season, especially with a lack of depth in midfield ultimately holding United back in 2020/21.
There are question marks over Paul Pogba’s future beyond even this summer. But while Van de Beek still may not get into United’s strongest starting XI, the ability to rotate is absolutely crucial to success – it is no coincidence that Manchester City ran away with last season’s title when they were able to call upon a plethora of attacking talents to keep everyone fresh.
The technical ability is already there, but if Van de Beek now has the physicality to complement that, a bigger role is waiting for him in 2021/22. United just need to give him the chance.