Manchester United pursuit of Frenkie de Jong should send a warning to Man City – Alex Brotherton
Manchester City’s two wins against Manchester United last season were arguably the two of the most one-sided Manchester derbies in the fixture’s 141-year history.
Barring a 20-minute period at the Etihad Stadium in early March, City utterly dominated their cross-town rivals, reducing the encounters to kickabouts less intense than some of Pep Guardiola’s training sessions. The 2-0 triumph at Old Trafford in November was an exercise in patience and control; City didn’t afford United even the faintest whiff of being involved in the game.
The 4-1 win at the Etihad saw United attempt to play their own game, but they were swiftly put down by a Kevin De Bruyne masterclass. If the league table hadn’t already made it clear, the 180 minutes highlighted the chasm that has opened up between the two sides in recent years. City are a well-run, efficient yet beautiful winning machine, whereas United seem to lurch from one crisis to the next while offering up frankly embarrassing performances.
The gap could open up even more next season, with Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez adding even more firepower to the Premier League champions. In particular, the signing of the former was one that a few years ago United would have done their best to – and perhaps would have succeeded in doing so – hijack. In today’s world, there was simply no question of which Manchester cub the 22-year-old striker would choose.
However, the latest transfer saga to engulf the city should send a warning to the Blues – not least because it involves a player who, in an ideal world, would probably already be playing under Guardiola at City.
After months of rumours linking Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong with Old Trafford, the latest reports suggest that the player is open to reuniting with his former Ajax coach Erik ten Hag. If true this marks a significant development, as De Jong had previously stated that he had no intention of leaving Barca, a club he dreamed of playing for since childhood.
While Barcelona are extremely reluctant to sell, the club are in a financial mess and De Jong is one of their most valuable and sellable assets. If they can find a replacement – reports suggest that Barca coach Xavi want Bernardo Silva – then they could do business with United.
While the signing of De Jong would of course not change United’s failing fortunes by itself, it would certainly represent a step in the right direction. For years United have been dogged by a lack of joined-up thinking, a series of expensive signings complemented by a string of coaches with very different styles.
That’s left a team with a lack of identity, but signing the Dutchman could start to change that. United have hired a coach with a clear Cruyffian-inspired playing style, and have allowed him to bring in his own staff to assist him. Should they make De Jong the first signing of the Ten Hag era, then they will be recruiting a player who knows the coach’s style for a position that desperately needs reinforcement.
The similarities between Ten Hag’s and Guardiola’s philosophies could prove an issue at some point – both clubs will likely start targeting the same players. If United have finally learnt how to properly identify and sign the right talents – as opposed to going out and signing the most expensive, marketable players – then in a few years they might actually begin to seriously challenge City again.
It will be a slow rebuilding process, but City should take note now. In football, standing still is the same as going backwards. But if there is one club that can focus on maintaining their own high standards and not let complacency creep in, it is City.