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Where Has It Gone Wrong For Donny van de Beek At Manchester United And Will Erik ten Hag Be Able To Revitalise His Career?

Shaun Webbley

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Where Has It Gone Wrong For Donny van de Beek At Manchester United And Will Erik ten Hag Be Able To Revitalise His Career?

“His ability to see space, time his movements, and read the game will really complement the qualities that we have in midfield,” said a giddy Ole Gunnar Solskjær back in the summer of 2020 about his new midfield addition Donny van de Beek.

The then 23-year-old, who played 175 times for Ajax before his eventual move to the Premier League, was joining with an exciting reputation. Having scored in the Champions League quarter-final and semi-final against Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur in 2019, the excitement was palpable.

The Dutch midfielder, who was reportedly on the verge of a move to Real Madrid, decided to join Manchester United, after the deal to take Van de Beek to Madrid was curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Madrid’s funds dried up so they needed to sell before being able to buy.


United’s pursuit of their main target in that position Jack Grealish stopped as soon as the now Manchester City player swung his left boot to the ball with brilliant effect, on the last day of the season against West Ham United in 2020 – cementing their survival in the Premier League. This meant the fee was bumped up to an almost exorbitant amount, and therefore United shifted their focus to the blonde midfielder.

United moved for Van de Beek when it became clear Madrid couldn’t afford him, with a fee of £35 million plus £5 million in add-ons being agreed between the two giants of European football - this represented a good deal for every party involved.

However, this unfortunately is where the positivity with Van de Beek ends and once again the Dutchman looks to be on the verge of adding to the growing list of players who have failed to perform at Old Trafford.

The curious case of Van de Beek is yet another reminder of United’s failings in the transfer market over the past decade. Rarely has there been a player who has had such promise, been signed with no plan in place since, although a perfect example of this is Paul Pogba, who re-joined the club in 2016, and it was patently obvious there was no plan in place for the Frenchman with the higher-ups in the club, which may have been the case with Van de Beek too.

During Van de Beek’s tumultuous two years at Old Trafford so far, United fans have seen him score on his debut, then drop down to the bench for the foreseeable and only been called upon in fleeting moments of need for something different in midfield. With just 50 appearances to his name in two seasons before being shifted out on loan to Everton, this match hasn’t been one made in heaven, so far.

Donny van de Beek only played seven times for Everton, scoring one goal (Alamy)
Donny van de Beek only played seven times for Everton, scoring one goal (Alamy)

When Erik ten Hag was announced as the new manager of Manchester United, the sheer buzz of anticipation and excitement was infectious, everywhere you look – United fans were in awe of the 52-year-old.

One player who is of obvious benefit to Ten Hag’s appointment is of course Van de Beek, similar to his former teammate and potentially future one based on reports Frenkie de Jong, they both shone under the Haaksbergen born manager’s tutelage.

United, Ten Hag and Van de Beek will be hoping this is the now 25-year-old’s big break in a United shirt, the midfielder has had false dawns – bulking up for pre-season last year before not getting a sniff of the starting XI, except from the odd Carabao Cup game, to name one example.

His debut goal against Crystal Palace, in front of an eerily empty Old Trafford, highlighted to United fans what the midfielder was capable of. Ghosting in behind Palace’s defence, before calmly slotting the ball past Javi Guaita in the Palace goal, it was encouraging.

Perhaps it’s an almost ironic epitaph of Van de Beek’s ill fated spell at the club so far that his last goal for the Old Trafford side came against Watford in the dismal 4-1 defeat, which turned out to be Solskjær’s last game at the helm – after limited minutes given to him by the Norwegian.

Nevertheless, that’s the past, what does the future hold for the midfielder and is there at all a way back for a midfielder, who was previously touted as one of the promising midfielders in Europe.

The Dutch midfielder has the ability to fill all three of the midfield roles, but the midfielder shines in an attacking role – shown by the plethora of goals he scored during his days under Ten Hag.

Looking at his time in Ajax, his ability to ghost in behind defenders was key but one of his most underrated statistics was his ability setting up his teammates, with 1.9 key passes completed per 90 minutes of football in 2019/2020.

His average of 2.2 tackles per game highlights his versatility, albeit the defensive midfield position may well be a position he’d rather avoid in United’s set up, due to his obvious attacking tendencies.

Van de Beek, during his days in Holland, would often play as the No.10 in front of De Jong and Lasser Schone, so this may well be a position we see him in next season, however Bruno Fernandes occupies this position currently. Fernandes as a false 9 ahead of Van de Beek could be an outside shout as an option, but we should file that as highly unlikely at this stage.

Donny van de Beek celebrates Ajax's 2019 league title alongside Frenkie de Jong
Donny van de Beek celebrates Ajax's 2019 league title alongside Frenkie de Jong

These next few months will be critical for Van de Beek, he needs to come back in pre-season and stake his claim in the new look Manchester United. With the abundance of midfield departures, this may be the right time for the £35 million signing.

There is also the distinct possibility that Van de Beek may not be good enough for the Premier League. The physical demands of the league have affected Dutch imports to England in the past. Davy Klaassen joined Everton from Ajax with a lot of expectation, now four years later he’s back in Holland with Ajax – after a torrid time in the Premier League.

This isn’t another hopeful platitude made by giddy United fans, next season could be his year. With Erik ten Hag at the helm, who got the best out of him during his days at Ajax anything is possible for the 25-year-old.

Ten Hag could well be the man that kick starts Van de Beek’s career and potentially switch on the light that shone so bright during that magical run in the Champions League in 2019, which garnered the nickname “Maradonny” comparing him to the great Diego Maradona, which was given to him by former Ajax teammate Abdelhak Nouri.

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Donny van de Beek, Manchester United, Football, Erik Ten Hag, Ajax

Shaun Webbley
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