As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. However, with the news breaking from Mike Verweij that Ajax starlet Frenkie de Jong has agreed a 75 million euro move to French behemoths Paris Saint-Germain, it does appear that this might be a rare occurrence where there are no true losers. While the deal has yet to be confirmed, De Telegraaf claims the deal is “as good as done,” with Marc Overmars, Ajax’s Director of Football, joking that “[Frenkie] already speaks French” in his press conference the following day. De Jong will stay with Ajax until the summer transfer window.
De Jong’s rise might seem sudden, but in truth the massive fee agreed for him is representative of a number of recurring phenomena, Ajax’s stellar scouting and transfer policy chief amongst them. Frenkie de Jong started out playing for the youth side of ASV Arkel, before moving on to Willem II, where he played for the U19 side of Willem II and RKC Waalwijk. He made his Eredivisie debut for Willem II, and after making just two Eredivisie appearances he was transferred to Ajax for a symbolic transfer fee of one euro.
The details of this transfer deal are quite important to the current status of de Jong’s career. The deal that brought him to Ajax included two extra clauses: Ajax would loan de Jong back to Willem II, along with loans for Ruben Ligeon, Lucas Andersen, Lesly de Sa, and Richairo Zivkovic, and Willem II would be owed 10 percent of the next sale of de Jong, along with the standard 5 percent solidarity contribution. RKC were due 40% of that fee, as the two clubs share an academy program due to geographical proximity.
While at first glance Willem II might look to have been fleeced by Ajax in this deal, it is important to consider the bigger picture of Dutch football. Frenkie de Jong’s market value at the time of his transfer was only 250,000 euros, and he had only made two appearances for the first team. Because of this, Willem’s bargaining power was severely reduced: the Tilburg outfit could either ask for a higher transfer fee more reflective of his ability at the time, or gamble on de Jong developing into a player who would someday garner a larger transfer. Willem II also got three first-teamers back on loan, which all in all was a pretty decent return for a player who had only made two appearances. Willem II were, and still are, a side constantly threatened by relegation. They have been sent down twice in the past eight years, and are not operating with any sort of consistency. This also contributed to reducing their bargaining ability: for Frenkie de Jong, a youth player not rated by the manager, it was worth taking a chance.
Of course, from then on, Frenkie de Jong proved his worth. He won the Jupiler League’s Talent of the Season award in 2016-17, as he scored six goals and had eight assists as Jong Ajax finished second in the league. After making his full first-team debut against his former club in the last game of the season, he became a consistent first-team player in 2017-18, appearing 22 times until a hairline fracture in his calf bone sidelined him for the last eight games.
This season has been de Jong’s true coming-out party. After rumors linked the midfielder to Barcelona and Manchester City, every big club in Europe seemed to want the crafty playmaker. Recently, he has shown exactly why Ajax were so intent on signing him back in 2015. He is a small but slippery playmaker, equally adept on and off the ball. His body feints are exquisite, his passing range extraordinary. He’s even demonstrated a touch for goal this season, scoring a low shot from outside the box against Willem II and then adding a nice solo effort against PEC Zwolle this past weekend. Last season, he was deployed as a libero, playing at center-back alongside Matthijs de Ligt; his dribbling skills and passing repertoire led to mazy runs like this. This season, he plays as more of a deep-lying playmaker for both Ajax and the Netherlands, but for both sides, he has the same license to roam and create via passing or dribbling. He was man of the match for the Netherlands’ victories over France and Germany in the UEFA Nations League, registering a pass completion percentage above 90 percent, while also making several key tackles.
While PSG are paying a premium – 75 million on a player whose Transfermarket value is a tick above 40 million – the young Oranje star provides depth and quality for the Parisians at a number of positions. Frenkie de Jong joins a star-studded lineup which features young phenoms like Kylian Mbappe and Thilo Kehrer alongside established superstars like Marquinhos, Marco Verratti, and the mercurial Neymar. PSG have lined up in a 3-4-3 this season, and Frenkie de Jong could easily start alongside Verratti in the center of the park or play alongside Marquinhos and the aging Thiago Silva at the back, in a reprisal of his libero role at Ajax.
While Ajax will lose one of the driving forces in their squad, they are certainly getting their money’s worth. Ajax will recoup just over 64 million euros from this deal, a sum equal to an astonishing 75% of the Amsterdam club’s annual operating budget. Willem II will earn 6.35 million euros, 63 percent of their annual budget, and for RKC Waalwijk, the 3.75 million earned will equal 117% of their annual operating costs. By risking the sale of a relatively unproven talent years ago, as well as proving the virtue of partnering with Willem II’s academy, RKC have essentially earned an entire year’s worth of costs; for Willem II, the funds will likely be diverted to looking to bring in new talent to help their goal-shy squad.
Although Ajax are earning plenty of money, they have no shortage of talent with which to fill de Jong’s void. Rising academy star Ryan Gravenberch could easily make the leap up from Jong Ajax to the senior squad, with Carel Eiting the likely short-term replacement. Naci Ünüvar, who at 15 years old is the UEFA Youth League’s youngest ever goalscorer, is earning comparisons to Abdelhak Nouri and is certainly one to watch. If Ajax wanted to sign a first-team replacement, AZ’s Guus Til could be an option. The 20-year old has been in decent form this year, and likely wouldn’t cost too much. Ajax could also try to bring in a young talent from abroad like Manchester City’s Brahim Diaz or Chelsea’s Mason Mount to fill the void, although promotion from within remains the most likely answer. Seeing as Ajax are already considerably wealthy, especially by Eredivisie standards, the money earned could also be used to bring in an established player similar to their transfer of Dusan Tadic this past summer.
Perhaps the biggest winner of them all is Frenkie de Jong. He can now play out the rest of the season without worrying about his future – Ajax are just two points off the pace of league leaders PSV – and he can be fairly confident of getting significant playing time at a world-class club, a guarantee he likely would not have been offered at Manchester City or Barcelona. He can look forward to playing regularly in the Champions League while also playing in a domestic league that, similarly to the Eredivisie, affords players plenty of time on the ball. As he is only 21 years old, this is just one of many milestones in his career as he progresses for Les Parisiens and the Dutch national team.
There might be no such thing as a free lunch, but as far as 75 million euro lunches go, this one works out well for all involved parties. PSG get a promising talent with a high ceiling, Ajax get a 64,000,000 percent return on their initial investment, and Willem II and RKC Waalwijk get significant sell-on fees that will help them in the years to come. While de Jong will be missed at the Johan Cruyff Arena, the search can now begin for the next star midfielder to emerge from de Toekomst.