One of the most common archetypal stories to emerge out of the wilds of football journalism, usually some time during the season when the transfer windows aren’t open, is “Player X nearly signed for Team Y.” It happens all the time, usually with the benefit of time and insider information, a la a Harry Redknapp interview through an SUV window.
I usually hate these kinds of rumors, as they serve no other purpose than to get fans of a football club to scream into their pillows and think about what might have been if things had only gone just a little bit differently. Last summer, we even came up with The Tottenham Hotspur “Almost XI,” fielding a whole team of good players that Spurs supposedly nearly signed but obviously didn’t.
Enter Frenkie de Jong, 21-year old Ajax midfielder. He has already signed a pre-agreement and will join Barcelona when the transfer window opens on July 1. He is tipped as a potential superstar, and his ceiling is almost impossibly high. He has helped take Ajax to the quarterfinals of the Champions League this season after knocking out Real Madrid in the previous round. He was also linked heavily to Tottenham Hotspur for the past couple of seasons.
Which is why this Player X nearly signed for Team Y is so upsetting. There now exists an actual interview of de Jong discussing his links to Tottenham, how he was enamored with the club last summer, and why he ultimately decided NOT to make the jump to north London when he had the chance. Apparently, it was due to injury and the feeling that he wasn’t quite ready.
“The moment wasn’t right. I wasn’t finished at Ajax, as I hadn’t yet played a full season in my own position. I was also injured in that period, so I was thinking, ‘Not yet’. I felt I should stay for another year at Ajax, or perhaps longer.
“I considered their [Spurs’] offer long and hard. I see Tottenham as a very stable club, and they are only getting better. They give young players a chance and I see Mauricio Pochettino as a manager who really improves young players. I like the kind of football they are playing. I think it would have suited my game.”
If you detach yourself from your Spurs fandom for a hot minute, then Frenkie’s decision was obviously the correct one. He obviously had a fantastic season and propelled his career trajectory from “signing for an up-and-coming London Premier League team with a great manager” to “signing for arguably the biggest and best club in world football.” Hard to argue that this wasn’t a better result than signing for Tottenham last summer. He’s going to be great. It was unquestionably the right call.
And still, I can’t help thinking about what this Tottenham team might have been like with Frenkie de Jong in midfield, just like I can’t help thinking about how Spurs’ central midfield could’ve been improved by the signing of Tanguy Ndombele, another player Spurs reportedly were very close to signing before his agent pulled the plug.
It does little to dwell on these things. Just like Willian, or Eden Hazard, or (lol) Leandro Damiao, it’s all hypothetical. You can’t change the past. And frankly, if you want to take some positives going forward, you can use Frenkie’s comments as positive reinforcement that Spurs’ identification and targeting of potential signings has been good — they’re linked with all the right players they need to improve dramatically, they’re putting the hard sell at these guys, and they’re coming close... ever... so... close... to getting them across the line.
That’s a positive we can hang our hats on going forward into this summer’s window. Excuse me now while I go scream into my pillow.