Midfielder | Ajax | Netherlands
With his spectrum of footballing-god comparisons ranging from Franz Beckenbauer to Xavi, Frenkie De Jong is one of those young talents that just seems to get football. And not get football like understanding the idiosyncratic stipulations of the modern offside rule - rather, getting football as in seemingly being born with a divine ability to do exactly what he wants on a football pitch. It has often been said that Lionel Messi is some breed of alien zapped down to earth for our entertainment pleasure and while De Jong is a little less extra-terrestrial, his level of ability (let alone potential) does seem to be on a different planet to the rest of the Eredivisie right now. A move elsewhere at the end of the season seems pretty much inevitable.
2018 has been…
Like De Jong himself, incredibly well-rounded.
While some of the 21-year-old’s most mesmerising performances last season came at the tail-end of 2017, chiefly when he made three assists in a single game against Roda, 2018 marked his unexpected emergence as a centre-half, which is where the next Beckenbauer monikers largely emerged from. If anything, stepping back 20 yards only gave De Jong greater capacity to control the game, launching countless Ajax attacks with precision passes and darting dribbles out of the heart of defence.
The switch didn’t please everybody though, including De Jong who quickly dubbed the change in position a ‘short-term experiment’. Accordingly, after missing the final few months of last season with an injury the Dutchman has returned to his preferred midfield role this term and started to discover something his previous performances, despite how good they were, always lacked - netting prowess. Two goals for 2018/19 represents a new career-best for top flight football and if he can deliver goals on a consistent basis, there will be few youngsters in Europe in greater demand next summer.
It may well be performances in the Nations League’s knockout rounds that gets such a deal over the line, or from Ajax’s perspective adds an extra zero to De Jong’s price tag, and international football is another test that the midfielder’s taken in his stride throughout 2018. De Jong has been a key part of Oranje’s revival under Ronald Koeman, featuring in all four of their Group Stage games and most crucially the wins over France and Germany. Champions League showings haven’t been too bad either - for 2018, he’s averaged a passing accuracy of over 90% in Europe’s most elite competition.
As already alluded to, it seems inevitable this will be De Jong’s last season at Ajax. There may well be some adjustment should he move to a major European top flight, especially as the more defensive aspects of his game still come into question from time-to-time, but it’s hard to imagine any of Europe’s biggest institutions not licking their lips at such a promising long-term investment.
Champions League and Nations League knockout rounds though will give De Jong the chance to allay any lingering fears over a tricky transition by showcasing his abilities against some top-quality sides. They feel like the launch pads to really take the 5 foot 11 sensation’s career to the next level in 2019.
A - A year that has seen De Jong become a key player for both club and country