By 90Min
December 13, 2018

Ajax has been a proving ground for more young players than almost any other club in the world, yet it would be no exaggeration to say that Frenkie de Jong - along with his inseparable teammate Matthijs de Ligt - has generated more excitement than any Dutch player in years.

Nobody seems to know what to make of De Jong. Compared to Franz Beckenbauer because of his tactical flexibility and Johan Cruyff because of his skillset, De Jong is not really comparable to either player. At the age of 21, he is already very much his own man.

No wonder, then, that he has been linked with a move to some of the biggest clubs in Europe. Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City have taken a keen interest in the young midfielder, and a bidding war between those three clubs could escalate to enormous fees.

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Last week, it was reported that PSG had stolen a lead in the race to sign De Jong, with rumours of a €75m bid, which would smash the Eredivisie transfer record. For a club which survives on revenues up to seven times smaller than Europe's richest teams, such a bid would be very difficult to turn down.

In some respects, De Jong going to PSG would make a lot of sense. The French champions are resigned to losing Adrien Rabiot at the end of this season as he has repeatedly rebuffed attempts to extend his contract beyond 2019. De Jong would be the perfect upgrade, and Ligue 1 would be an achievable step up from the Eredivisie.

But would this really be the best move for De Jong's career? There is no doubting that PSG have some world class players that De Jong would love to play alongside, but the quality of the opposition in Ligue 1 is distinctly lacking. Les Parisiens are already 13 points clear at the top of the division and on course for a sixth title in seven years.

This lack of competition leaves PSG ill-prepared for the challenges of the Champions League, usually resulting in an early knockout stage exit. De Jong needs to be testing himself against top class opposition on a more regular basis if he wants to continue developing as a player.

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He would certainly be able to do this at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, whose high-tempo, possession-based style is one that De Jong has expressed great admiration for, telling the Guardian: "I love this style. Get the ball back quickly, then play possession with so many combinations."

De Jong is a perfect fit for Guardiola's system. He can carry the ball out the from the back and glide past defenders, he possesses excellent vision in his range of passing, and his decision-making in congested situations shows maturity beyond his years. He is also very versatile, capable of slotting in at centre back when called upon.

There will soon be a Fernandinho-shaped vacancy to fill at the Etihad Stadium and De Jong is one of two likely options to replace him. The other is Lyon's Tanguy Ndombélé, who may have leapfrogged De Jong on Guardiola's wish list with his performances against City in the Champions League.

At Barcelona, a similar vacancy will soon become available. 30-year-old Sergio Busquets looks like he could continue playing for several more years, but it would be naive of Barca not to have a ready-made replacement in the wings. Who better for De Jong to learn from than one of the greatest defensive midfielders of the modern era?

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What Barcelona can offer that neither PSG nor Manchester City can is consistency. They have a footballing identity to uphold regardless of who is currently in charge, so their playing style is less likely to change under different regimes. City may have a temporary Spanish flavour, but there is no guarantee of that lasting beyond Guardiola's tenure.

The link between Barcelona and Ajax goes way back. Johan Cruyff famously played for both clubs, and he was one of many great players to do so, along with Michael Laudrup, Patrick Kluivert and the De Boer brothers, to name a few. The two clubs share a sporting philosophy; both are seen as purveyors of how football should be played.

This Ajax team is closer in style and quality to Barcelona than any Ajax team in over a decade. They have proved this by reaching the Champions League knockout stages for the first time since 2006, running Bayern Munich close in Group E. The gulf in class, and the size of the step up, is not as extreme as some would have you believe.

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De Jong must show that he has the ambition to match his considerable talent. Now is not the time to tread water in Ligue 1, where PSG's financial dominance could keep him locked down for years to come, or to join Manchester City for a fleeting chance of playing under a manager who rarely stays anywhere for long.

He may balk at comparisons with Cruyff, but if De Jong is to achieve his full potential, the finest Dutchman ever to play the game has shown him that the Nou Camp is the place to do so.

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