Former Barcelona midfielder Gaizka Mendieta has provided some insight concerning Frenkie de Jong’s struggles at the club.
EXCLUSIVE: La Liga legend Mendieta explains Frenkie de Jong's Barcelona woes
Ahead of Sunday's El Clasico, the former Barcelona and Valencia midfielder weighed in on the Dutchman's struggles at Camp Nou
The Netherlands international, who joined Barcelona in the summer of 2019 for a princely fee north of 60 million pounds from Ajax, has struggled to assert himself at Camp Nou. Speculation throughout the summer transfer window linked him with a move to English giants Manchester United, with reports suggesting the La Liga club’s preference was for him to leave.
While De Jong ultimately opted against a transfer, the 25-year-old finds himself behind young Spanish midfielders Gavi and Pedri in the pecking order under current manager Xavi.
Barcelona’s bias in favour of their youth set-up is well established, with the fabled La Masia academy an integral part of the club’s identity and focus. It can often mean that even already established stars find themselves in limbo at Camp Nou: the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann and Miralem Pjanic have, in recent times, joined the club for significant outlays, only to struggle.
“It's true and I understand that there are players who come from outside the academy, so you need an adaptation process,” Mendieta said. “Many players have arrived at Barca, but have needed time to settle in, and that’s absolutely normal these days.”
Former Spain international Mendieta, a gifted midfielder during his playing career, spent a year at Barcelona in the 2003/04 season. Despite only being there on loan, he played an important role in the starting line-up, making over 30 appearances for the club under two different managers despite his stint coinciding with the rises of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, both of whom would go on to have Hall of Fame careers.
The key, according to Mendieta, was tactical clarity and a tendency to self-sacrifice.
“For me, at the time in my professional career when I went to play for Barcelona, it wasn’t a difficulty for me at all,” he said.
“I was very clear about how Barcelona played – (Louis) van Gaal and (Radomir) Antic were the coaches – but for me in Spanish football, after playing for Valencia for many years, it was no problem. I fully understood that it would depend on my position. I played in different positions, and I knew at all times what was expected of me. That was my mission.”
For a player of De Jong’s quality, Mendieta believes it is simply a matter of time and adaptability. The former Valencia captain also stated that, while Barcelona’s preference for homegrown talent is a barrier, there is a further complication for players signed from outside of Spain.
“[A bedding-in period] is needed for all teams, especially when you’re (coming from) outside Spain. That’s something that is normal: when you change teams, you need some time to settle in, to understand the way they do their training and also to settle in with your colleagues; also your colleagues need to get to know you too.
“Professionally, we’re all very clear about the different ways of playing, and so obviously you have to understand and know your players to get the best performance possible.”
Barcelona go into this weekend’s El Clasico under a cloud following their midweek 3-3 draw with Inter, which puts them in grave danger of elimination from the Champions League. Pointedly, De Jong only joined the action from the bench, but having made an impact on the proceedings, the Dutchman will be hoping to get the nod from manager Xavi to start against Real Madrid on Sunday.