It seemed like a done deal halfway through last season. Barcelona and Ajax are two clubs with comparable values and their respect for one another has even prompted discussion that a collaboration agreement could be struck to benefit both parties in the transfer market.
For that reason, the signings of both Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt seemed more like a formality than a soap opera in the making. And sure enough, after some initial hiccups, concerns and paper talk, De Jong was officially announced in January, with the move officially materialising at the beginning of the summer.
Now, he already dons the Blaugrana and it didn’t take long for him to capture the fans’ hearts.
And for the majority of last season, it was widely expected that his partner in crime and best friend would follow sooner rather than later. Fast forward a couple of months and the coveted youngster is in Turin playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo as opposed to Lionel Messi.
The fans were quick to suggest it was actually the Portuguese who sealed the deal with a mysterious handshake and a devious whisper in the ear when the duo met in the Nations League final. The same final De Ligt ended up losing shortly before his move to the Old Lady was made official.
A reported £67.5m was allegedly what it took to secure the signing of one of the most promising centre-backs on the planet. Barcelona were beaten and not even their relationship with Ajax nor the prospect of playing with Messi and his best friend could make the necessary difference. The deal was done, the contract penned and the 20-year-old was flying over to Italy.
Sure enough, this was perceived as a huge loss for the Catalan giant. But while it’s difficult to deny that missing out on a generational talent, the youngest captain Ajax have ever had was a tough pill to swallow, it just may not have been such a gruesome scenario after all.
From the financial side, a deal of £67.5m doesn’t look like a huge hit on Barcelona’s bill. After all, the Catalans have spent more than double those amounts on several players in the last couple of transfer windows and are looking likely to continue the trend going forward. But the wage bill was apparently the problem. The Dutchman’s notorious agent, Mino Raiola, was reportedly demanding extraordinary wages and Barcelona just couldn’t keep up with the rest of the big boys in football. Not after their recent purchases left them dry.
And while sacrificing some of the wage bill for a generational talent doesn’t seem like a crime, especially if you’re putting in enough effort to sell and free up some of that money in the not so distant future, buying him just so others won’t kind of is.
Had he arrived at the Camp Nou, Barcelona would’ve had a total of five centre-backs competing for two spots in the team: Samuel Umtiti, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jean-Clair Todibo and finally De Ligt.
More importantly, three of those four are still young, in their early twenties and with big careers ahead of them. Todibo is only 19 and, with the Dutchman arriving, he would no doubt have to be shipped out, loaned or just chained to the stands. Either way, that’s far from ideal for a talented youngster with a dream to chase.
So yes, it was a great loss to miss out on De Ligt but it was hardly a necessity. The centre-back position is a spot well covered in Catalonia and further investment would have been frivolous.
Finally, we have that famous Barcelona motto to round things off. “The one who has doubts about playing at Barcelona is no longer needed by us”, stated Johan Cruyff in the days now gone by and this is something the Catalans have been living by for a long time.
But this is very much still something the fans regularly dig out when it fits their agenda and their cause. Regardless of how true on untrue that may be, maybe it is a sign of integrity after all. A statement that reads quite well with a message that they will survive and prosper, with or without De Ligt at their side.
So this choice might have been a difficult one to make for Barcelona but not entirely career-deciding. In fact, once he develops and grows up to be a player who could slot into the Catalans’ gala 11 with no effort, that transfer could make even more sense.
Was this transfer the right choice for the youngster in question, however? His words might say so but the alleged release clause in his contract might not agree with that and it hints that Turin was not his preferred destination after all.
Who knows, maybe there’s still a chance “De Twins” will one day be reunited under the lights of the Camp Nou.
Only time will tell.