2018 22under22 Countdown – #12: Frenkie de Jong

Frenkie de Jong

“I recently watched an Ajax game and spent 90 minutes following Frenkie De Jong. You might ask me about other players, but I can’t tell you a thing about them. I was only watching Frenkie — the way he runs, the way he turns, the way he finds space. He is the youngest on the pitch, but everyone gives him the ball. That is the greatest compliment for a footballer. He is incredibly good, and should play for Barcelona or Real Madrid one day,” – Ryan Thomas of New Zealand and PEC Zwolle

Date of Birth: May 12th, 1997 (21 years old)
Nationality: Dutch
Position: Center Midfielder
Club Appearances: 32 (1 goal, 7 assists)
International Appearances: No senior caps
EiF Ability Rating: 61

*EiF Ability Rating is a representation of a combination of the player’s current ability and potential ability. It is determined by multiple rounds of voting, and then an addition of the scores given by each judge. The maximum score a player can have is 80.

It took a while for Frenkie de Jong to get his chance at Ajax (God knows why) but since he got it he hasn’t looked back. Wowing spectators on a weekly basis, the young midfielder has stunned fans with his daring and thrilling style of play. I said it last February and make no mistake about it, Frenkie de Jong is Ajax’s most exciting midfield prospect since Wesley Sneijder.

If you pay attention to European football and are an avid Twitter user, then Frenkie de Jong is a name that you’ve likely heard by now. You’ve probably seen many a fan wax lyrical about his unique playing style and you’ve probably seen videos of how he’s actually been playing as an almost false center back. Yes, a false center back. Think Franz Beckenbauer and… well that’s about all I can think of. That’s how unique Frenkie’s season and his play has been this season. A natural center midfielder who has often played as a #10 was now lining up alongside Matthijs de Ligt in the heart of Ajax’s defense. Of course, he wasn’t expected to be a traditional center back. His role was to instigate attacks and dictate play. He had the freedom to push forward and essentially do as he pleased. And that’s exactly what Frenkie did all season long (until he unfortunately got hurt and missed a large part of the end of the season).

Now, Frenkie has suitors all across Europe and it’s no surprise. I’ve spoken highly of Frenkie for ages and have always labeled him as Busquets’ ideal successor and it seems Barcelona may agree. They’ve apparently locked up a deal to sign him in 2019, but surely Pep’s Manchester City, Bayern Munich, and more will try to have their say.

Frenkie de Jong is truly one of the most interesting and exciting midfield prospects I’ve ever seen and while he’s undoubtedly become more mainstream over the past 3 months or so, I’ll do my best to fill you in on everything you don’t know about this little gem of a footballer.

Frenkie de Jong Background

Frenkie de Jong, 19, grew up in the Willem II academy and has been a regular for various Dutch youth national teams throughout his short career. He made his league debut for the club in 2015 before Ajax snatched him up that very same year where he became a key player for Jong Ajax, who play in the 2nd division in Holland. Forming a midfield trio along with Abdelhak Nouri and Carel Eiting, de Jong excelled and was one of the main reasons Jong Ajax finished in 2nd place and scored the most goals in the league. De Jong’s ability to control the midfield was a crucial factor in their success and his impressive performances did not gone unnoticed. He featured regularly in first team squads and made appearances in both the Dutch Cup and the Europa League, before making his league debut in February 2017. He would go on to make more first team appearances throughout the 2016-2017 season and was even rewarded with a few minutes in the Europa League Final vs. Manchester United, which Ajax unfortunately lost.

Frenkie de Jong
Frenkie de Jong at Willem II

Frenkie de Jong Strengths: Incisive passing, dribbling, dictating play, creativity, quickness, versatility

These qualities are pretty much everything you need to be a top class midfielder and Frenkie de Jong has the lot. It may seem a bit hasty to claim he has all these attributes considering he has only played one full season for Ajax’s first team (and even that was limited by injury), but he has exhibited every single one of these qualities for Jong Ajax as well as in his first team minutes.

The thing that stands out the most about De Jong is how supremely confident and comfortable on the ball he is and how he demands it every chance he gets. This comfort and desire to be on the ball at every opportunity is critical if you wish to be a world class midfielder and it quite honestly is reminiscent of how Luka Modric and Sergio Busquets are constantly seeking the ball no matter where it is. However, you can get on the ball as much as you like, but you need to be able to make things happen when you have it and this is particularly the area where de Jong thrives. Whether it is with his incisive passing or by dribbling out of pressure using his spacial awareness, close control, and quickness, de Jong is regularly able to break the midfield lines and advance the ball from midfield into the attacking third.

Just have a look at this performance vs. the champions PSV back in December. A man of the match performance from Frenkie playing in his false CB role as PSV couldn’t get near him.

This quality to move the ball into the attacking third is hugely important for any team, but especially for those like Ajax, who play a possession-oriented style. You can maintain possession for as long as you like, but you need those special players capable of making penetrating passes between the lines or carrying the ball through the lines if you are going to be successful creating chances and scoring goals.

In this seemingly straight forward play (the video below), he does something that top midfielders do – make the less obvious, riskier, but more dangerous pass. He has a good option to his left, but he does not settle for that. He looks at Hakim Ziyech and fakes passing it to him, which draws the defenders out for a split second, allowing him to fire an entry pass to Amin Younes, who is in a much better position and nearly scores. This may seem like a small, simple play, but in my opinion it shows that de Jong is always looking to go forward and is always looking to be a difference maker, which are the signs of a top class midfielder.

De Jong is also a perfect modern day midfielder because he is able to play a number of roles at an incredibly high level due to his impressive skill set. He can play as a deep lying playmaker, as a playmaking number 10, or as a number 8 who dictates play like Modric or Kovacic. This versatility makes him a dream for managers, and particularly for Ajax managers, because he can play in all three positions in Ajax’s patented 4-3-3. Similar to Thiago Alcantara, albeit at a lower level, he’s played all three roles with great success and could have a fantastic future playing any one of these. But, in my opinion, he’s at his best as a deep lying playmaker or as a number 8 in that Modric-type role, dictating play with a holding midfield player behind him because it allows him to focus on controlling the play while giving him freedom to push into the attack, knowing he has a player behind him to cover. He can thrive equally well in both roles, which is why he can be such an asset to a number of teams because he can perform in that Busquets deep lying playmaker role or in that number 8 type role. Certainly a rare ability.

Despite playing more frequently as a center back this season, it’s clear his future lies in the center of midfield. He has all the skills to be a top class central midfielder and eventually this is where he will make his mark on football.

Frenkie de Jong Weaknesses: Passivity, aerial duels, strength

While de Jong loves is absolutely brilliant on the ball and generally does great things with it, just sometimes, you feel as if he could do more. When he’s on and he’s at his best he’s getting on the ball every few seconds, dictating play, and dribbling opponents, but occasionally he’ll be content just knocking the ball around simply and not doing anything decisive. He should constantly be looking to up the tempo and while this isn’t a huge flaw (more of a need to refine his mentality) there are sometimes when you feel de Jong should be doing just a bit more.

Additionally, de Jong is not the biggest, which means he can struggle in those tricky, physical away fixtures. He stands at roughly 5 feet 9 inches (1.78m) and weighs only 150 pounds (68kg), which means he is not the most physically imposing central midfielder there is, but this isn’t too big of a deal as the likes of Xavi, Luka Modric, Marco Verratti, and Thiago have shown us. Height and strength are not everything. To be able to dominate the midfield with such a small stature these players have to be the best technically and have to constantly be one step ahead of the play. Frenkie has shown he has these capabilities, as he often avoids physical battles by reading the game superbly well and by combining quickly with teammates, so that bigger and stronger players do not have the chance to knock him off the ball.

Frenkie de Jong Player Comparison – Luka Modric/Mateo Kovacic/Thiago

As I’ve mentioned throughout this profile, Frenkie de Jong has a style of play that resembles Thiago, Modric and Mateo Kovacic. The way he dictates and controls play with a combination of his passing and dribbling skills as well as how he is constantly looking to play positive, attacking passes is incredibly similar to that of the trio. Modric, Kovacic, and Thiago are three of the world’s best, so it is a good to resemble their style of play. Of course, de Jong has a long way to go and it is obviously quite early in his career, but, in my opinion, all the signs point to Frenkie de Jong becoming a world class midfielder one day.


Written by Marc Geschwind (@mgesch13)