Frenkie de Jong has made his long-awaited move to FC Barcelona. This piece elaborates exactly why world football is hyped about the next big thing to come out from AFC Ajax’s roster.
Why was the iPod so successful?
I stumbled across this question while researching for this piece. The iPod shuffle was launched in 2005 and was quite reduced in terms of its functionality and the interface structure. There was no display screen, no defined menu and you could only skip songs and change the volume with it. Although in practice, the hardware of the iPod was capable of supporting a display screen, an audio recording feature and a radio function, Steve Jobs chose to do away with it instead and keep it to a bare minimum.
And despite being simpler than other competitors and with lesser features, it still managed to capture 58% of the entire market of flash music players.
How, you ask?
Because Steve Jobs was a visionary and it was his belief in minimalism, a philosophy where things are stripped down to the fundamentals to augment aestheticism that propelled Apple to the industry giant it is now. Jobs was aware of the fact that people adored creatively designed simple products even though they might not have any use for it and it sold very well.
The human senses are naturally programmed to seek the simple and the elegant as dogma. It is the reason that prompted Noam Chomsky to write a paper in 1993 seeking a major line of inquiry to seek a more uniform outlet and development when it came to universal grammar. It is also the same reason that has got me really excited for FC Barcelona’s new and prized midfield acquisition Frenkie de Jong, who is the very personification of minimalism on a green field.
I’m not going to bother about the economic side of the transfer or talk about what de Jong’s arrival means from a tactical perspective, I’m pretty sure the Barcelona fanbase has done that to bits by now. What I am going to talk about is the player and the way he conducts himself on a football pitch that resembles the fundamentals of minimalism- aesthetic, appealing and mighty effective. Armed with nothing but an acute understanding of the game that is borderline on the genius (borderline for now) and an athletic physique that helps him avoid enemies with usually a touch or two in the wrong direction for deception and then shifting his body weight to another dimension by the time his opponent has fallen for his bait, Frenkie de Jong is in every way the perfect mould for a club like Barcelona.
Take a look at Xavi’s career.
What did he exactly do that made him the greatest midfielder to play the game?
I mean, yes he broke lines, yes he found teammates with the eye of a needle pass, yes he ran the tempo of the game to suit his team’s needs, yes he built an attack from the back and created chances. Yes, he did all that but at its core, his career relied on something more inherent, more fundamental, more simple- stripped down to its bare necessities. In his own words, Xavi rotated his head a thousand times in a game and read space and time. That’s it. Much like Bob Dylan’s genius songwriting that featured deep philosophical, social, mythological allegories and interpretations but at its surface, it narrated a simple story. And if you asked Bob Dylan about it, he’d probably say the same, that it’s just a song.
Having built a habit of dropping as low as the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, Frenkie caresses the ball back from his goalkeeper Onana and assesses options. He renders the first press from his opponents an exercise in futility with a simple release to a fullback or accompanying midfield personnel. If the opponent is unlucky, however, and in most cases they usually are, Frenkie disarms and nullifies him completely with just the swivel of his hips- a simple shimmy and he’s off on his marauding run, eager to take on a second or a third and add more bodies to the casualties list or to release the ball and slow down the tempo of the game as he sees fit. After the games against the Netherlands, Thomas Muller took to the press to vent how pressing de Jong wasn’t exactly a bright idea. He was right. You could press James Bond into giving up the location of the MI6 if you tried hard enough, but you couldn’t press Frenkie into giving up the ball. In many cases, de Jong would just slither and pirouette his way effortlessly to the final third all on his own with simple body movements and close inherent control of the ball that’s been tried and tested innumerable times and find options to play the killer final pass. And with a deep progression count of 11.1 per game, de Jong ranks amongst some of the finest in Europe.
Watching Frenkie de Jong play football, I cannot help but think about the ambient pop band Cigarettes after Sex or more specifically, their tracks. Maybe Frenkie’s mind works in a similar way as the band’s approach to making music. Featuring just an echoing guitar and the soft tap of drums in the backdrop, Greg Gonzalez’s tender vocals singing intimate but simple lyrics at usually the same, dreamy tempo is a formula that works like a charm and sends listeners to an ambient state of mind. Frenkie’s mind probably follows the same dreamy routine- analyze situations on the first press, reduce his body’s movements to distort the opposition team’s shape the most and take advantage of vacated space by spraying passes into those zones. He then moves up, offers himself to the buildup once again and repeats this simple and minimalist process over and over again creating numerical superiorities for his side all over the pitch- it is a formula that works like a charm for him and sends the audience to an ambient state of mind.
And although simplicity as a value is widely accepted- simple systems are rare- most instead threaten to burst with complexity. And this is the same for the beautiful game. This is why players like Xavi, Iniesta, Pirlo, Busquets, David Silva and the likes are so, so special because their brains are ingeniously trained to seek the simplest, most effective solution for problems and make football look like art.
And now, Frenkie de Jong is well on his way to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing alongside Lionel Messi at Barcelona where he will get the opportunity to showcase his craft and wow and mesmerize even larger audiences. With Frenkie, the price and expectations are secondary, the talent and the will to succeed is of utmost importance and make no mistake, Barcelona has a generational talent in their roster now.