So, let’s recap:
One of the main reasons Frenkie de Jong reportedly turned down an €85 million move to Manchester United over the summer was because he didn’t want to play in the Europa League.
Sure, there were other reasons. Barcelona were his “dream club” and he and his girlfriend were happy living there. He’s owed some £17 million in deferred wages and the club wanted him to forfeit all or part of it in the event of a transfer. United looked like a total mess in the summer and there was no guarantee Erik ten Hag, his former manager at Ajax, would be able to make the transition from the Eredivisie to the Premier League.
Those were all compelling reasons. But the main one seemed to be the Europa League thing. De Jong wanted to play in the Champions League and going to United would be a step down for him (Cristiano Ronaldo, basically, felt the same way). Despite the fact that Barcelona ended last season in the Europa League, de Jong felt he was too good for UEFA’s second-tier competition and wanted to avoid it all costs.
Well, he got his wish. De Jong finally made his debut at Old Trafford yesterday, as United dumped Barcelona out of the Europa League, winning 2-1 to take the tie 4-3 on aggregate. United were comprehensively better than Barcelona over the course of both legs and probably should have won by three or four.
In doing so, they gave de Jong plenty of questions to ask himself. For instance:
- “Wasn’t our summer spending spree supposed to avoid another European disaster?” Instead, Barcelona got knocked out of the Europa League for the second consecutive season. By losing in the knockout round playoff, this marks their earliest European exit since 1998-99, when they failed to qualify from their Champions League group (a group that included two teams that would make it all the way to the finals: Manchester United and Bayern Munich). As such, Barcelona are going to miss out on quite a bit of revenue from UEFA. Will that mean another round of pay cuts and/or deferrals?
- “Maybe I could be the guy to take United to the next level?” The club is in form right now, but one glaring weakness remains their inability to dribble through the lines of an organized pressing team. De Jong is one of the best in the world at that, and he showed it numerous times against United. He and Casemiro could be the perfect midfield combination. And if rumors of a Qatari takeover are true, de Jong probably won’t have to worry about any more salary deferrals.
- “Could the camaraderie of the United players and the devotion of the fans (especially with how the fans taunted me after the final whistle) mean that Manchester might not be such a horrendous place to be after all?” And hey, there’s no reason why de Jong can’t keep his $5 million house in Pedralbes and visit Barcelona during his downtime.
- “Did Bruno Fernandes intentionally kick the ball into my chest when I was on the ground?” Fernandes’ actions touched off some shoving and pushing between Barca and United players (although not involving Casemiro, who was probably threatened with a month’s wages if he grabbed anyone by the shirt collar again)?
Actually, I think I can answer that last question. Fernandes totally did it on purpose. In fact, I bet his internal monologue at the time went something to the effect of: “This is for big-timing us over the summer, you wanker!”
That’s why Bruno will probably get the armband once Harry Maguire leaves in the summer. Bruno decided to send a message because he didn’t like that de Jong disrespected his club and you’ll never convince me otherwise.
Or maybe he was singing to himself at the moment he decided to do his best Shogun Rua impersonation:
Mr. Champions League, wouldn’t leave his team,
They wanted him gone, but he was living his dream.
He spent his whole damn life to avoid second-tier
And as his team crashed out,
He thought: “Why’d I stay here?”
And isn’t it ironic?
Don’t you think?