On Wednesday, reports claimed Frenkie de Jong had told Erik ten Hag he wouldn’t be leaving Barcelona for Manchester United. That’s said to be his final answer, with the 25-year-old eager to stay at his current club despite their desire to get him off the wage bill. And that speaks volumes about the Red Devils and their plight since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement back in 2013.
Manchester United have spent over 80 days pushing to sign De Jong, who Ten Hag quickly identified as his top target upon taking over at Old Trafford.
The Red Devils have agreed a fee with Barcelona for the 25-year-old which is believed to be worth an initial £63million, with bonuses and add-ons then seeing that figure rise to £72m.
United are prepared to make De Jong one of their best-paid players at the club, too.
And they’re also planning to use him as a midfielder, with the Netherlands international being used at centre-back by Xavi during Barcelona’s pre-season tour of the United States so far.
But De Jong, it was claimed on Wednesday, has now told Ten Hag he won’t be coming to United this summer.
The duo previously worked together at Ajax, winning the Eredivisie title together in 2019 and helping them reach the semi-finals of the Champions League that same year.
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Yet the fact De Jong doesn’t want to come to United speaks volumes.
Simply put, they are no longer the superpower they used to be. Gone are the days when Old Trafford was the best place to play your football.
Ferguson walked away in 2013 after steering United back to the top of the Premier League table, having missed out on the title to Manchester City the previous year.
He left a squad of winners to his successor, David Moyes, even if it clearly needed some revamping to stay on top.
But United, since seeing their iconic boss leave on a rainy afternoon in Manchester, have regressed to the point where they’re no longer a true superpower of the game.
Louis van Gaal won the FA Cup in 2016, beating Crystal Palace in the final courtesy of goals from Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard.
And Jose Mourinho guided the Red Devils to Carabao Cup and Europa League glory the following year, in his maiden season in the dugout.
But United have got nowhere near winning the Premier League title – never mind the Champions League.
Sure, they’ve finished second on two occasions since Ferguson’s retirement – in 2018 under Mourinho and 2021 under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
But, on both occasions, they finished way behind champions Manchester City and were never really in a genuine fight for the title.
When it comes to the Champions League, United have also never been remotely close to lifting the famous trophy under Ferguson’s predecessors.
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Their best season in that competition was in the turbulent 2018/2019 campaign, where they reached the quarter-finals before being eliminated by Barcelona.
And though De Jong has only won the Copa del Rey throughout his time in Catalonia, there’s still a sense Barcelona stand a better chance of winning the biggest titles than United.
The Catalan side have spent big on Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha, with Jules Kounde set to follow from Sevilla.
And they’ve also recruited Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie on free transfers from Chelsea and AC Milan respectively.
United aren’t a team ready to challenge for the biggest trophies under Ten Hag just yet.
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And the fact De Jong has told his old boss he flatly won’t make the move is a damning indictment of where the fallen Premier League giants are at.
Speaking recently, meanwhile, Ten Hag claimed he’d promote from within if United miss out on his leading target.
“We’re looking for a player who can play in the holding midfield position, but it has to be the right one,” he said.
“There are not many in that position capable of the level we demand.
“When we can’t find him, we have to deal with the players in our squad now and we will develop one in that position.
“We need the right player. We have a list and we will strike the moment the player is available.”
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