Donny van de Beek had to deal with a huge disappointment this week by leaving the selection of the Dutch national team. The midfielder struggled with a nasty injury around the home game against Georgia and followed an adjusted program during the training days. It fits in with the dramatic season that Van de Beek had.
The attacking midfielder was the big man at Ajax. After the departure of Davy Klaassen in 2017, the youth exponent was given more and more opportunities to work for himself in the team and turned out to have sufficient scoring ability to be of service to the team from Amsterdam. With players like Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Hakim Ziyech and Dusan Tadic around him, Van de Beek continued to develop himself and it seemed only a matter of time until he would make the switch to Real Madrid, which had been chasing him for months.
Van de Beek reportedly even signed a pre-contract in Madrid, but it never came to an actual contract. Real Madrid dropped out and Van de Beek was left empty-handed. However, the Dutchman saw his teammates go to top clubs, so that he also started to feel the urge to leave. When Manchester United subsequently reported to take over Van de Beek, he finally decided to take the plunge. It looked like a wonderful step for the midfielder, but it was in England that he really learned what competition is all about.
Last season, Manchester United had eight players in addition to Van de Beek with Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata who could play in three positions. The Orange international was unlucky that Fernandes did an excellent job in the position of attacking midfielder, Van de Beek’s favorite position. Since head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjær liked to play with the point forward in the middle line, Van de Beek had to adapt as a controlling midfielder.
The midfielder was clearly unprepared for his new role in the team. While head coaches of this time often tell the media that it is important for a club to occupy all positions at least twice, this is especially important for the association itself. When there are few injuries and suspensions within a player selection, a head coach logically falls back on the best players. Only in the English cups did Van de Beek therefore have opportunities in the first team, but he did not always play well.
During those duels, Van de Beek was clearly looking for his old form that he showed at Ajax. Where he had many automatisms with his teammates in Amsterdam and thus dived into spaces in which he scored, it was often different in Manchester. Because he played little, he lost more and more the football click with his teammates last season and they regularly closed each other’s spaces to play football. Over the months, Van de Beek ended up in a vicious circle.
Despite this, he also played some strong duels in between. The last league game visiting Wolverhampton was an example of such a match. “His best performance in a long time and a testament to what he can do when he plays in a deeper role in midfield,” wrote Manchester Evening News after the game. He had good possession, sprinted into the depths when the opportunity presented itself and proved reliable defensively.” Manchester United eventually won the game 1-2.
His disappointing season also had an effect on his role in the Dutch national team. Ronald Koeman opted in the past for Marten de Roon, Frenkie de Jong and Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield, but was criticized for passing Van de Beek. Various analysts and experts stated that Koeman would play football much more with Van de Beek and therefore had to put him in a controlling role next to De Jong. This discussion remained alive even when De Boer was appointed.
However, Van de Beek’s appearance changed last season. The midfielder hardly got any more playing minutes in the Nations League and during the qualifying matches of the Dutch national team for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. During substitutions, Van de Beek was clearly unable to suppress his disappointment and was in no way able to convince De Boer that he was ready for a starting spot. The effect was that the national coach drafted him even less and more often gave preference to Klaassen who had gotten in shape.
The midfielder had simply taken over the Van de Beek role at Ajax and also showed that he can compete well in European matches. De Boer decided above all to fall back on players who were in shape and who also had the necessary minutes in their legs. He apparently kept Van de Beek mainly because of his performances in the past, but the 24-year-old midfielder did not seem to have to count on many minutes inside the lines. However, it was not allowed to come to that, because just before the final tournament he drops out.
Van de Beek will not want to experience another season like this, but for that he has to make an important decision in the coming weeks. Manchester United seem to want to lose few players towards the new season, although Pogba’s departure is still chanting. If there are no changes at the English top clubs, then Van de Beek would be wise to think about his future. The problem, however, is that few major clubs are still interested in the services of the midfielder, so a quick switch is not an option.
In the Netherlands, however, they are still surprised about the current form of the midfielder. Sjaak Swart, who has had a close relationship with Van de Beek for many years, stated in conversation with Veronica Inside: “He would fit in with other clubs in no time. If I look at Liverpool and Wijnaldum is leaving now, he will be a wonderful replacement. Or from Thomas Müller, at Bayern Munich.” However, the chance seems small that the clubs will choose Van de Beek this summer, because they do not dare to take many risks in the current corona crisis.
De Boer will keep a close eye on the developments surrounding Van de Beek next season. The head coach will hope that the midfielder will take new steps in his development after the summer and will be ready to travel with the Orange to the World Cup in Qatar next year. In the past, Van de Beek has already shown that he can handle the European top level, but for that he has to play at a club that gives him confidence in his abilities. Whether Van de Beek actually finds that club remains to be seen in the coming months.
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