Frenkie de Jong is a name in the headlines this weekend after making his Eredivisie debut for Ajax, so there is no better time to profile the young Dutch midfielder, who is Ajax’s best midfield prospect since a certain Wesley Sneijder.
I recently wrote about Ajax’s best defensive prospect, Matthijs de Ligt, and today I continue with Ajax’s best midfield prospect, Frenkie de Jong. At this point I might as well complete the trilogy and write about Ajax’s best attacking prospect, Justin Kluivert, but I’ll save that for another day. Frenkie has probably received the least press coverage out of these three, but, for me, he very well has the potential to be the best. Here’s everything you need to know about this gem of a midfielder…
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 has become 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 has excelled and is one of the main reasons Jong Ajax currently sit comfortably in 2nd place and have scored by far the most goals in the league. De Jong’s ability to control the midfield has been a crucial factor in their success and his impressive performances have not gone unnoticed. He has featured regularly in first team squads and made appearances in both the Dutch Cup and the Europa League, and following his league debut this weekend, it appears that he may be set for more game time, which he thoroughly deserves.
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 barely featured for Ajax, but he has exhibited every single one of these qualities for Jong Ajax as well as in his limited first team minutes. He was on the pitch for a mere 5 minutes this past weekend and in that short time he showcased all of these abilities.
De Jong is supremely confident and comfortable on the ball and 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 is 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.
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. Just have a look at the video above as an example of this. In this instance he uses his dribbling to break the lines, but he is equally capable doing this with his passing ability as seen in the video below.
In this seemingly straight forward play, 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.
May seem a little thing, but loved this from Frenkie de Jong. Looks off the easy pass wide and plays a more incisive one creating a chance.
Clip at 5:49
— EiF Soccer (@EiFsoccer) February 13, 2017
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.
Frenkie de Jong has all the skills to be a top class central midfielder and his performances have continued to improve and they continue to be noticed by Head Coach Peter Bosz. I think de Jong will have to be resigned to playing the majority of his football with Jong Ajax for the rest of the season as the first team have been thriving and the midfield of Davy Klaassen, Hakim Ziyech, and Lasse Schone has proved quite successful. But, I believe he will get more playing time as the season goes on and then he will slot into the starting line up next season ready to make Ajax’s midfield his own.
Frenkie de Jong Weaknesses: Aerial duels, strength, tackling
De Jong is not the biggest. He stands at roughly 5 feet 11 inches and weighs only 150 pounds (68kg), which means he is not the most physically imposing central midfielder there is, but as the likes of Xavi, Luka Modric, Marco Verratti, and Thiago have shown us, height and strength is 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. If de Jong can add a bit more muscle as well as become slightly more adept at recovering balls defensively then he truly would have all the tools to be a world class midfielder.
Frenkie de Jong Player Comparison – Luka Modric/Mateo Kovacic
As I’ve mentioned throughout this profile, Frenkie de Jong has a style of play that resembles Modric and also that of his Real Madrid and Croatia teammate, 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 Madrid and Croatian duo. Modric and Kovacic are two of the world’s best, so it is good to resemble their style of play. Of course, de Jong has only played a few matches 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.