Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag is all about proactivity in every sense of the word.
On the field, the former Ajax player wants his team to play high with aggression and always anticipate the opponent’s next move. Apart from that, Ten Hag is already thinking of backup scenarios in case the Frenkie de Jong saga ends in disappointment.
It has been a minute since there have been concrete developments in the negotiations for the Dutch midfielder. United have reportedly struck a deal in principle with Barcelona for his services, but the deferred wages owed by De Jong have created an impasse.
In the meantime, De Jong accompanied his Barca teammates on the run for their pre-season tour in the United States. On the other side of the world, United are three against three on their tour of Thailand and Australia and Ten Hag fends off questions about transfers from left and right.
Usually tongue-tied about what is going on internally at his club, Ten Hag explained exactly what United are looking for in the transfer market and what the current plan of action is given De Jong’s situation.
“What I can say is that we are looking for a player who can play in midfield,” the United boss said in one of his media duties. “But it has to be the right one. There aren’t many in that position who are able to reach the level we demand.
“If we can’t find him, we are now dealing with the players in our squad and we will develop one in that position.”
Especially on De Jong, Ten Hag went back to his mysterious ways. He said: “I will not comment on any particular player. We need the right player. We have a list and we qualify as the player who has the competence to play that role. We will strike as soon as the player is available.”
From those statements, we can infer that the Dutch boss wouldn’t be afraid to mold someone at the club into the exact profile of the player he wants in his midfield. In theory, it would probably be easier to pull off such a maneuver with a coachable youth player, than with a senior with years of habits – good and bad – instilled in their game.
Only time will tell how this story ends. De Jong’s dream could well turn into a summer fiasco. There is no telling when a final conclusion will be reached and whether United will want or have the time to move to another target of a similar nature.
In the event that Ten Hag chooses to go into the season with his internal development plan, there are currently three players at the club who could be molded into that De Jong-style midfielder.
The 21-year-old has yet to register a minute of pre-season football on United’s tour of Thailand and the country Down Under, but after fending off a pat, looks set to finally join the fold.
On paper, Garner may have the best mix of senior football experience and youth to be coached into the type of midfielder Ten Hag wants and needs so badly. Over the past two seasons, Garner has made 90 first-team appearances between loan spells at Watford and Nottingham Forest.
Last campaign, the midfielder helped the legendary English club secure a ticket back to the Premier League. He played an important role in their midfield and spent a season developing a system that played good football under Steve Cooper.
With four goals and ten assists, Garner showed himself not only with a deadly set-piece, but also with smart decisions about when to join the attack, when to keep things simple and when to maintain position.
While many consider the academy graduate a classic box-to-box midfielder, most of Garner’s appearances at all levels of football were deeper, in the defensive midfield. Despite good offensive contributions last season, he was Forest’s anchor.
Garner recently spoke to MUTV about his positional flexibility. He said: “I’m not as busy when I’m playing as a six or eight. Throughout the academy I played like a deeper six. People might have wondered if I could score and create, but when I got to the [under] 21s, I showed that I could also play box to box.
“Last season I played as a six, eight and in the number 10 position. For me, I enjoy six or eight as long as I play.”
Willingness to play anywhere needed is a plus, plus Garner is very well equipped to play anywhere in the middle of the park.
United have been clamoring for a six ball that can tie the game together in recent years. Over the past few seasons, Garner has demonstrated excellent passing range at various levels and an adept ability to break lines and dodge the press with good ball carrying and ball progression.
All of the above suggests that he could well be molded into the ideal defensive midfielder under Ten Hag. Whether he makes his debut against Villa and where he plays will tell us a lot about the United boss’s plans for the 21-year-old.
Donny van de Beek
After a somewhat lackluster start to life at Old Trafford, the former Ajax man has gotten a bit of a United lifeline with his former boss taking over at the club.
Although Ten Hag already emphasized that Van de Beek will have to earn his place just like everyone else, despite their past together, the Dutch boss knows exactly how to get the best out of the midfielder and the 25-year-old will gag. to prove that many doubters were wrong.
If the Dutchman had to choose, his preferred position would certainly be higher up the field. However, with Bruno rock solid there and the arrival of Christian Eriksen, the road to regular time may have become even more complex.
Unless Van de Beek refocuses and chooses to play where he is needed – which he says he is ready for.
“I have to play where the team needs me,” United’s number 34 said in an interview with ESPN earlier this week. “I can play as a 10, but also as an eight. One of my strengths is getting into the penalty area, scoring a goal or providing an assist, but I also like to be on the ball.”
The last part of that quote is of immense importance here.
Van de Beek is indeed comfortable with the ball and has all the tools to become a De Jong player in the long run. The midfielder would just have to adjust from upgrading regular goals to propelling the ball and making things tick in the middle of the park.
Van de Beek has shown in the past that he can play in the engine room, both at Ajax and United. He is technically sound, can throw himself and is not afraid to absorb the press and beat with a series of passes.
If he were used in the role that De Jong would be, if he put pen to paper at the Theater of Dreams, Van de Beek would also be licensed to get involved in attacks and make late runs in the penalty area. making – so goal contributions wouldn’t be out of the question.
It feels like this season makes or breaks the Dutchman’s career at United. And while it won’t be easy to win games as the last third operator, there is a position where the midfielder can build his own, especially if United fail to sign his compatriot Barcelona.
Perhaps to the surprise of many, the 19-year-old midfielder has played the most pre-season minutes of any traveling academy graduates on tour to date.
Iqbal’s extensive involvement was somewhat unexpected as he was buried deep in the margins of the first team last season. He did not appear in another matchday roster after a substitute cameo debut in the first team in a meaningless Champions League game.
But that said, the United faithful were no strangers to the Iraqi international’s talent. Iqbal started making noise in the academy as more of an attacking midfielder. His impressive contributions during the pre-season have been a little deeper, in a midfield two.
The Manchester Evening News reported on Iqbal’s rise to the academy earlier this year, revealing that the talented midfielder is modeling his game after Mesut Ozil and De Jong. So, who better to fill that void if the Dutchman doesn’t bolster United’s ranks this summer?
Iqbal has played in all three of the Reds’ pre-season games to date and has made a lasting impression in all of them. The 19-year-old is very silky on the ball and has shown maturity over his years against players with significantly more experience.
Perhaps the most impressive are Iqbal’s natural instincts and ability to recognize when to slow down or speed up the game. Deft touches, accurate passes and eyes around his head make him a prime candidate for that midfield role. It does exactly what the position demands.
Iqbal is always available for the ball and is comfortable in the deep drop and received under pressure. He says he’s wanted to be in the middle of all the action ever since he can remember.
“It’s been part of my game since I was young, I always wanted the ball,” Iqbal said, filling one of United’s pre-season media duties. “I told myself that this could be the only chance I get in the first team. I’m just doing what I’m doing and what the intention will be. I won’t regret it.”
The hunger is evident in Iqbal’s playing and he has done an excellent job raising eyebrows with many of his performances. Judging by the way he has been deployed by Ten Hag so far, it would not be far-fetched to assume that the Dutch boss has envisioned De Jong’s role.
Iqbal is always around the center circle, ready to receive the ball and move it forward. He is unusually calm on the ball for a young player. Most tend to have erratic touches and make questionable decisions, but not Zidane. He seems ready to contribute.
Ten Hag sees that and appreciates the midfielder’s talent. Belief in Iqbal’s abilities can be seen in the boss demanding more from the teen during a training drill earlier this week. However, he still needs to see more to make a final decision about his future.