Timeline of Man Utd’s links with Frenkie de Jong

There were less than ten minutes of the 2017 Europa League final remaining when Ajax manager Peter Bosz tried one last ploy to break down Jose Mourinho’s stubborn Manchester United.

On came a 20-year-old Frenkie de Jong. He would make little impact as United saw out a 2-0 victory but the Dutch midfielder has been tethered to the Old Trafford club throughout almost every subsequent transfer window.

That De Jong was left on the bench for the final was no surprise at the time. The whispy midfielder only properly broke into the first-team the following season, before later flourishing under the thousand-yard stare of Erik ten Hag.

Long before Ten Hag took charge of United, links of a move for De Jong had emerged. Here is a look at how the rumours and whispers have grown over the years.

De Jong’s parents – who named their child after the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood – were not the only ones paying close attention to their son’s first start for the national team.

United had reportedly sent scouts to the Netherlands’ 2-1 defeat against France in the UEFA Nation’s League to check out the wriggling youngster. Tottenham had supposedly seen a £45m bid rebuffed the previous summer but Barcelona were rightly ranked as favourites.

Intriguingly, the scout that recommended De Jong to United after that trip, Derek Langley, was ‘removed’ from the club after a frank discussion with chief executive Ed Woodward about the transfer targets that had been overlooked.

Frenkie De Jong, Josep Maria Bartomeu

Frenkie de Jong agreed to join Barcelona in January 2019 before actually signing that summer / Eric Alonso/GettyImages

In January 2019, De Jong agreed to his ‘dream’ move to Barcelona for €75m just three years after visiting Camp Nou as a spectator. Manchester City – rather than United – were Barcelona’s closest rivals in the race for his signature.

As De Jong embarked upon a patchy adaptation period in Catalonia, rumours of a move to United subsided. But they would be back.

Barcelona were economically crippled by the coronavirus pandemic which initially suspended football before forcing all matches behind closed doors. With the largest wage bill in the sport, the lack of revenue was catastrophic.

Rival clubs quickly smelled blood and began sniffing around Barcelona’s saleable assets; chief among which was De Jong. In the winter of 2021, De Jong’s father John claimed that ‘the five top European clubs have all called’.

It was implied that United were one of the interested suitors but De Jong Sr suggested that the ‘bad weather there’ could hamper the club’s chances of snagging his son.

Erik Ten Hag, Frenkie De Jong

Frenkie de Jong (left) made 145 appearances for Erik ten Hag at Ajax / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

As soon as a manager moves to a new club, they are immediately linked with all of the star players they just left. This is an easy and lazy rumour to spread. Inevitably, in the same month that the Dutchman was announced as Ralf Rangnick’s permanent successor at Old Trafford, De Jong’s name was straight back in the gossip columns.

However, Ten Hag’s business upon arrival at Old Trafford has tended to revolve around known variables. When United’s bid for Ajax’s Jurrien Timber was rebuffed, his teammate Lisandro Martinez made the move, before winger Antony followed the same path.

De Jong hasn’t been reunited with his old boss just yet.

The rumour mill began to audibly whirr as the 2022 summer transfer window drew nearer. United were supposedly prepared to make De Jong the club’s highest-paid player as they sought a replacement for the departing midfielder Paul Pogba.

However, at the same time, reports emerged that De Jong was underwhelmed by United’s approach. It appeared that the presence of Ten Hag did not make up for a lack of Champions League football and the player’s ultimate desire to stay in Barcelona.

De Jong may have been uncertain – the midfielder would go no further than politely accepting that he was ‘flattered’ by the interest – but Barcelona were more than happy to negotiate an exit for their expensive midfielder.

If Barcelona had reluctantly elbowed Lionel Messi out of Camp Nou the year before due to their financial limitations, they had no qualms about accepting a hefty fee for De Jong.

After an initial offer of €60m was rejected by the cash-strapped club, multiple sources reported that Barcelona had agreed to a sum in the region of €65m. However, De Jong was emphatically not on the same page.

Frenkie De Jong

Frenkie de Jong was being lined up as a potential replacement for Paul Pogba at Manchester United / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

With talk of the fee rising as high as €80m, De Jong had to forcefully make his position clear. As the player explained in the following summer: “The club was in a difficult situation. They were able to sell me for a big fee, and they wanted to do this, but I did not want to leave so I stayed.”

One of the sticking points was the deferred wages Barcelona owed De Jong. The Dutchman was part of the squad which set aside their salary during the height of the pandemic but never entirely wrote off that money. As Barcelona reluctantly pay De Jong what he is owed, he will be the top earner in all of La Liga for the 2023/24 season.

In mid-August, a self-imposed deadline reportedly passed which forced United to withdraw all agreements that had been made in their bid to sign De Jong.

Barcelona had tried their best to make Catalonia as hostile as possible for the midfielder, with Xavi Hernandez purposefully deploying De Jong as an uncomfortable centre-back during pre-season. De Jong admitted there was a ‘situation’ with club president Joan Laporta but he eventually dug his heels deep enough.

However, Ten Hag was not deterred.

Frenkie de Jong

Whatever Frenkie de Jong may say in public does little to stem the tide of rumours to United / BSR Agency/GettyImages

Another transfer window rolled around and more links between United and De Jong unsurprisingly followed. Despite repeatedly stressing his desire to remain in Spain in public, De Jong supposedly told Ten Hag in private that he was “happy to join Barcelona”.

Named as one of four players ‘not for sale’ by Barcelona president Laporta that month, De Jong duly stayed put.

Gluttons for punishment, United still have De Jong sitting atop their list of transfer targets, 90min understands.

Despite the repeated rejection, Ten Hag still ‘adores’ his former player. Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich are also interested, sniffing around the situation as Barcelona endure more financial issues.


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