De Jong did not exactly play United last summer, but he and they were certainly played by the Catalan giants. The silky middleman Ten Hag helped nurture through the famed Amsterdam system was, seemingly, up for grabs until Barcelona performed a sharp transfer U-turn to put him front and centre in their successful title charge.
As is so often the case, money was one predominant sticking point. De Jong had deferred wages dating right back to the Covid-19 pandemic, but what the 26-year-old really thought Barcelona owed him was an opportunity to win back his place, stay in his dream city and (re) prove his worth.
He did that with interest last season after Xavi and the Camp Nou hierarchy opted to play ball. Money was not the concern for United, though, as they have highlighted over 12 months.
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Casemiro and Mason Mount – completely different players to De Jong and from each other – set United back over 120million between them. Christian Eriksen was a shrewd free transfer, while Marcel Sabitzer was snapped-up on loan from Bayern Munich during the January transfer window.
Sabitzer has since returned to the Bundesliga – completing a permanent transfer to Borussia Dortmund from main rivals Bayern this summer – and United have negotiated the same market to find his replacement, Sofyan Amrabat. His loan fee stands at 10million with an option, not obligation, to buy.
Despite not yet making his United debut, Amrabat might well be, on paper, the closest United have got to finding their own De Jong. Providing his initial loan spell goes well, the Morocco international would be a snip at the likely 25million mooted for his permanent signature.
In the past, present or future, De Jong would set them back at least twice that amount.
Casemiro, Mount, Eriksen and Sabitzer for that matter offer or offered United unique qualities. However, with their Brazilian powerhouse Casemiro being the exception, those players are predominantly attack-minded. De Jong was a special target because he can do the lot, much like Amrabat.
“One of my wishes to get another [number] six,” said Ten Hag upon signing Amrabat, yet another player known to the United manager from their days at FC Utrecht together. “You need depth in there, in that position we only had Casemiro who can play really well there.
“Also, he can play alongside Casemiro because he can play a little bit higher [as a box-to-box midfielder]. He&aposs very dynamic, he&aposs very good in the duels. We are pleased that we have him at United and he will contribute to our high targets we set… He fits very good to the Premier League and Champions League.”
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Casemiro and De Jong would have been the dream for Ten Hag at United, but Casemiro and Amrabat will have to be the reality. Should he live up to the promise, though, that might not necessarily be a downgrade for United and Ten Hag, reportedly, jumped through hoops to get him.
Initially, there were thought to be some concerns over his proposed signing from the boardroom. Ten Hag and his loyalty to bringing in familiar players has been well-documented, but as has been proven with Donny van de Beek, that loyalty hasn&apost spilled over into the blind variety.