Since the start of the transfer window, Barcelona have been uncharacteristically active. In stark contrast to the summer of discontent that engulfed Catalunya last year, the garnet and blue have made the acquisitions of several world beaters.
The Blaugrana bought Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha from Bayern Munich and Leeds United, respectively. Thanks to their meticulous planning, Barcelona also signed two free agents, Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen, while Cezar Azpilicueta and Jules Kounde remain on their radars.
Barça’s business does not only have to do with what’s coming into the club, but also who they want to leave. Clement Lenglet has already made his exit from the Nou Camp, while Luuk de Jong made his return to Sevilla, who subsequently sold him to PSV Eindhoven.
They have also managed to loan Alex Collado, Francisco Trincao, Moussa Wague, Nico Gonzalez since then, while offloading Oscar Mingueza, Riqui Puig, and Neto on a free transfer.
Another name lingers in Barcelona’s list of planned departures, and that name is Frenkie de Jong. In stark contrast to Lionel Messi, the Dutchman, an avid supporter of the club, is being rudely forced out of it.
From what it seems, Xavi Hernandez would prefer to sell him and buy Bernardo Silva in his place.
Naturally, fans are outraged by how the club has treated him, especially bearing in mind the sheer quality he possesses. The club’s representatives clearly see him as a means to an end, this particular end being increasing the money it has available.
The question is, is a fee of around €80 million worth the possibility of losing a massive talent? Especially after back-to-back impressive cameos in the Joan Gamper Trophy and La Liga. Join Barça Universal as we explore whether or not this is the case.
Understanding Barcelona’s desire to sell him
While Barcelona seems interested in almost every living, breathing player out there, money is still invariably an obstacle. The Blaugrana have had to sell stakes in their TV rights and Licensing, amounting to around €700 million.
Joan Laporta and Mateu Alemany have expressed the fact that salaries are a severe limitation for them. This is a problem they have curbed by purchasing players, even at a high cost, but with relatively low salaries.
Despite being arguably the world’s best pure ‘nine’, Robert Lewandowski will reportedly be earning €9 million a year, well short of whatever he was getting at Bayern Munich.
Under his current contract, and also due to the salary deferrals caused by the pandemic, Frenkie de Jong is set to become the highest-paid player in Barcelona, earning around €23 million a year as of this season. In stark contrast to Lewandowski, this is a salary that is deemed unsustainable by the Laporta board.
From a purely legal standpoint, de Jong is under no obligation to accept to reduce his salary. He did, after all, freely sign his contract, and Barça are obliged to pay him, much as they may not want to.
It seems as though de Jong has no desire to reduce his wages, and as a result, Barça feel forced to sell him.
The Dutchman has made it clear that he wants to stay in Catalunya, through verbal expression and his physical commitment by buying a house and even proposing to his fiancée, Micky Kiemeney, in Barcelona.
In the pre-season tour of the United States, de Jong even featured for Xavi Hernandez’ side regularly, as both a central midfielder and center-back.
Clearly, despite the links between the Dutchman and Barcelona being no more than a signature away from ending, the 25-year-old is adamant about staying in the Catalan capital.
Xavi reportedly told de Jong that he would have to have his salary halved in order to remain at Barça. A 50% salary reduction is the maximum allowed in Spain, and if the Blaugrana is sincere about his desire to stay in Barcelona, then these are compromises he will simply have to contend with.
What has de Jong done for Barcelona so far?
Josep Bartomeu’s tenure was one marked by ludicrous financial decision-making and exorbitantly high spending. His acquisitions of Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, and Philippe Coutinho – only one of whom is still a Blaugrana – are in part why Barcelona are neck-deep in debt.
Despite his €75 million price tag, Frenkie de Jong was believed to finally be the big-money signing that was worth it. Coming off a stellar campaign with Ajax, the Dutch international was expected to perform similarly, if not better, than he did in the Netherlands.
Three years since the move, it is hard to say exactly what legacy he will leave behind.
With Ernesto Valverde at the helm of the club, de Jong did not display any real sense of consistency. The first season playing in a new club is always one of the most difficult – just ask Messi.
With a squad lacking the same passing flair as his former Ajax, and tactical mediocrity from both El Txingurri and Quique Setien, it was always going to be an uphill battle to gain momentum.
“If I speak about my performances, I could have done much better this year. I don’t think I have played many bad games, but I haven’t been able to have a run of really good games, either. I think I have been OK, but not good enough.”
Frenkie de Jong, in 2020
If his queries in his debut season pertained to his inability to get a good run of form, then they were quickly amended in the subsequent season. With Ronald Koeman and Alfred Schreuder, two managers whom he knew from both the Oranje and Ajax, de Jong was expected to finally get his day in the sun; and he did.
While Lionel Messi won the Ballon d’Or, he was hardly the most consistent player in the 2020/21 season. That honor belonged to de Jong, whose unheralded brilliance was the catalyst for some of the team’s best football.
The Dutchman did it all. He contributed to the team’s goals, provided assists, pressed valiantly, controlled play from deep, and offered himself to plug any holes, be it in the holding midfield, center-back, and at times even center-forward positions.
Last season, he reverted to his more bland, forgettable self for most of the campaign. Of course, de Jong did have a few mouth-watering games for the garnet and blue, however, many other players – on much lower salaries – were better than him in a plethora of facets.
Nico Gonzalez did supplant his dribbling and frequently added more fluidity in possession. Pablo Gavi added more verticality through passing, as he is a bigger risk taker in the final third of the pitch. In the holding midfield, he was simply never going to displace Sergio Busquets.
De Jong’s inability to create a lasting impact on Xavi Hernandez, despite the sheer volume of chances he gets to do so, makes him seem expendable; and Barcelona are expressing this in the best and most blunt way they can.
Three seasons in the Blaugrana, only one worthy of being written home about, and two to sweep under the rug. That has been the story of Frenkie de Jong in Barcelona.
What can Bernardo Silva offer in exchange?
Having been part and parcel of a positional play system under Pep Guardiola, there is perhaps nobody better fit to supplant Frenkie de Jong than Bernardo Silva.
The Portuguese international has expressed his desire to leave Manchester City on more than one occasion. If there is a possibility of him joining Barcelona, then it should be capitalized on with utmost seriousness.
Silva has, in his time at Manchester City, displayed one aspect in his play which de Jong hardly has: consistency at the highest level. While the Dutchman has on and off seasons, his Portuguese counterpart has regularly been among the best midfielders in the Premier League.
His technical profile is similar to de Jong, but at the same time, better in almost every conceivable way.
Silva is a sensational dribbler of the ball, and can easily weave his way through defenses. In La Liga, a division in which around half the teams are ready to, and frequently do, deploy deep blocks against Barcelona, his agility in tight spaces is heaven-sent.
More than just fancy footwork, Silva uses his dribbling to conjure up shots in and around the penalty area. The 27-year-old is in the 97th percentile for shot-creating actions from dribbles in Europe, a testament to the sheer threat he possesses in the final third.
With regards to shot taking, the Man City number 20 is also a step above de Jong. He takes 1.3 shots per game (vs de Jong’s 0.75), scores 0.27 goals per 90 (vs 0.11), and from an average shot distance of 12.2m (vs 14).
In the Premier League, Silva finished with eight goals from 7.77xG, while de Jong ended with three from 4.65xG. while one player slightly outperforms his tally, the other underperforms by around 35%.
In the creative department, the Cityzen finished the season with just one assist more (four against three), he created almost double the expected assists (6.57 against 3.32).
The pair are almost neck and neck with regards to key passes played per game, with Silva at 1.59 against de Jong’s 1.49. Nevertheless, his passes carry higher quality, leading to his comparative edge in attack.
In comparison to de Jong, and perhaps the single most attractive attribute that he has to Barcelona, Silva does not need to earn the highest wages.
Barcelona are struggling to pay the Dutchman his €20 million salary, and Silva could demand around half of that, given his current salary at City is roughly €9.2 million.
With lower wages, world-class football and almost unparalleled consistency, what more could Barcelona ask from Bernardo Silva?
Is it worth it to sell de Jong, though?
Comparisons between Frenkie de Jong and Bernardo Silva cannot be made based on metrics alone, as they are always bound to be skewed in one way or another.
The two play very distinct roles, and if one is better or worse at taking shots, then it is because he plays comparatively higher in an overall more attacking system, to begin with.
Silva does a host of tasks better than de Jong, however, he is older, more experienced. The Portuguese also has the incomparable benefit of having trained under Pep Guardiola and not Ernesto Valverde or Quique Setien, who both struggled to get anything out of him.
On the one hand, Barcelona could end up regretting their decision, as de Jong has shown on numerous occasions that the quality is there, it just needs to be extrapolated from him. Ronald Koeman knew how to, and Xavi Hernandez, a proponent of positional play, could as well.
The best version of the former Ajax man could turn him into an athlete as wonderful as Silva is today.
As a result of some questionable squad planning, Barça have to make a sale if they are to register Jules Kounde in time, while bringing in more players, especially fullbacks.
The club’s current wage bill is unsustainable, and alleviating €20 million right now, which snowballs into around €25 million next season, will go a long way in helping Barça get out of their financial hell.
On the other hand, there are multi-layered benefits to losing de Jong. For one, Barcelona could use the money from his deal to reinvest it into the City man this summer, and he would be a substantive improvement to the current roster, catering to the club’s desperate need for a highly creative interior.
That said, signing Bernardo is not a guarantee. With less than two weeks remaining in the transfer window, it seems unlikely that City will allow him to leave.
And therefore, pushing de Jong out of the club, in such a cruel manner, no less, is not a necessity. At the end of it all, they have an unquestionably talented midfielder, and watching him achieve his admittedly very high ceiling at another club would be heartbreaking.