Nasser al-Khelaifi was stumped when he turned to Lionel Messi for advice last summer. When asked if he thought Ansu Fati would be a good signing for Paris Saint-Germain, the Argentine replied that Barcelona’s best player by far, and the one he should hire if he wanted to deliver a coup, was Frenkie de Jong. . According to sources from the Parisian club, the Qatari president took the player’s words so seriously that he sent emissaries to speak with the Dutchman’s father, while Messi himself sent him messages telling him to go with him to play in Paris. The attempt was unsuccessful. Four months later, fate brings Messi together with De Jong in Lusail, facing off for a ticket to the World Cup semifinal in Qatar, the home of Al-Khelaifi.
De Jong grew up admiring Guardiola’s Barcelona. At his house in Amsterdam he still keeps a shirt emblazoned with Messi’s name. Both coincided at Barça in the 2020-21 season and established a relationship of mutual respect. “Messi does not have to arrive with the ball under control in the Dutch penalty area,” he warned when asked how to stop his old teammate. “But let’s not forget that for 15 years he has been dealing with teams that are trying to stop him. And in general he found a solution!”.
Facing Messi in the same quadrant of the field, De Jong will be the main person in charge of cutting off his supply lines. Nothing that escapes the script that follows in Van Gaal’s Netherlands, where his main role, notably more restricted than at Ajax and Barcelona, consists of protecting the three central defenders and offering them the first option to start with the ball. . “If we win three more games, we are world champions,” said the midfielder in the newspaper. From Volkskrant. “In the Netherlands we had settled for the idea of reaching the final. We have to win it! I’d rather win the World Cup with bad football than play well and lose the final, or stay in between. What the Netherlands represent in football is not the most important thing now.”
“We also want to play attacking, but we depend on possession,” he explained, not taking into account that the Netherlands will not easily find support to increase the volume of circulation as long as they accumulate so many men behind the line of the ball. “If we keep turning the ball over so fast, it’s going to be tough,” he observed. “Against the United States and Ecuador it was difficult for us to find free men at the start. If we don’t find them, it would be very naive to say: ‘we will stay in front with five men while we let the others defend and give away spaces’”.
“The Creative and the Loyal”
A versatile player par excellence, De Jong, 25, serves just as effectively to make the last pass against a tight defense as he does to execute the bolt in his own area. The latter is what Van Gaal asks of him, against his nature, as he himself confesses. “There are two types of players, the creative ones, who are attackers, and the loyal ones, who are midfielders and defenders,” pontificates the coach. “To build a balanced team you need a maximum of four creatives. The rest must be loyal. De Jong is creative, Depay is another and Blind is another. Depending on the opponent I add and remove creatives from the quota of four. Sometimes you need more balance and sometimes more creativity”.
Fleeing apostle of attacking football, Van Gaal has twisted his ideology in the same way as the role of his best player, eight by nature converted to four every time he puts on the orange shirt. “Today, soccer is much more difficult to play today than it was 20 years ago,” the coach justifies himself. “A crowded defense of a small team is stronger than a big attacking team.”
Assuming that the weak is De Jong and the strong is Messi, the logic vangalian proposes a firm conclusion: the Netherlands advance to the semifinals.
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