Donny van de Beek has been with Manchester United for two and a half years and two months. He has started five Premier League games for the club in that time.
He spent six months on loan at Everton last season, starting five Premier League games.
Van de Beek’s tenure at United has resulted in a troubling decrease for a player who, if not for the COVID-19 epidemic, would have signed with Real Madrid in the summer of 2020.
Many hoped that Erik ten Hag’s arrival at United would jumpstart his stalled career, but a muscle ailment has forced him to miss 10 games this season, including four in the Europa League group stage.
Due to a groin injury, the Dutchman was unable to compete in Euro 2020, which was held in 2021. He is unlikely to be selected for Qatar 2022 after failing to be included to any of the Netherlands’ matchday teams during a 15-game undefeated streak.
Unlike Antony, another former Ajax player who was quickly promoted to United’s starting lineups, Van de Beek’s stint at Ajax did not earn him special treatment from his boss.
It was only after a 3-2 away victory over Omonia Nicosia in the Europa League that Ten Hag discussed Van de Beek in any detail.
“Well, he has to be fit,” said the United manager. “Obviously, that is his disadvantage. He is now for two and a half years here so he had a pre-season that was quite OK and his chances will come. When he came on against Brighton (in the season opener) as a sub he did very well, but you have to be available. And if you are not available you cannot get a place in the first XI, and so now he has to make sure he gets fit and fights for his position.”
Van van Beek’s position and the way he battles for it are the driving forces for his dismal United career. During his tenure at Ajax, he played limited minutes as a defensive midfielder (No. 6) and frequently sat in a midfield two with Lisandro Martinez (yep, the one who currently plays for United). However, Van de Beek’s finest performances for Ajax came when he played as the No 10, either racing ahead of center striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar or attacking the half-spaces to combine with Ajax’s wide players.
During his stint at Ten Hag in the Netherlands, 29 of his 41 goals were first-time finishes. Even at his finest, he is more like punctuation than a whole phrase.
When he joined United in the summer of 2020, Paul Pogba’s future at the club was uncertain, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needed another playmaker. According to a club insider, Van de Beek’s £35 million ($40 million) acquisition provides “respite” for Bruno Fernandes. His first season with the club, however, was a letdown, with some at Carrington feeling he lacked the physicality to play regular Premier League minutes.
The 2020-21 season saw Solskjaer make 36 appearances in all competitions, but just 15 of them were starts, with the Norwegian manager believing that even a tired Fernandes was a better choice than the Dutch midfielder. Van van Beek returned for 2021-22, considerably bulked up, but was unable to unseat Fernandes from his favorite position. Instead, he was restricted to games in deeper parts of midfield until being loaned away in the January transfer window.
“I can play in numerous places and I want to play in the Premier League as a No 8, box-to-box,” Van de Beek stated following Everton’s 3-0 win against Leeds. He was on the field for the whole win, partnering defensive midfielder Allan in a 4-4-2.
Because of his off-the-ball abilities and ability to exploit space in the final third, the midfielder will be best served as the No. 10 in a United squad that can win the ball high up the pitch, dominate possession, and maintain aggressive pressure on opponents. He would need to be defended behind him by ball winners and tacklers, and he would need to be near to offensive players in order to build passing combinations and attack spaces that they create for him.
Following the defeat to Aston Villa, United manager David Moyes refused to criticize Van de Beek for what Ten Hag characterized as a terrible team effort. However, the midfielder has been too cautious in determining his optimum position for United, and he has been unproductive in the few games in which he has started as the No. 10. He is still a talented footballer, but he will need to rediscover energy both on and off the field to make it at United.