With Aston Villa defying all the odds and staying in the Premier League on the final day of the season, Jack Grealish’s situation has changed massively – and likely for the better for Villa fans.
Survival has allowed Villa to justify increasing their asking price for their star man, which has resulted in Manchester United cooling their interest in Grealish. Having previously been linked with Donny van de Beek as a backup option – yes, a secondary option to Jack Grealish – he could now be their primary focus at a much friendlier price.
United would likely face competition from a number of clubs, but seeing Van de Beek as the default option would do the Dutchman no justice. Signing him could quietly be an incredible piece of business for the Red Devils.
At 23, Van de Beek is a year younger than Jack Grealish and has admittedly had to battle to prove critics wrong a lot less often, in a less competitive league. However, what he might lack in Premier League experience, he makes up for with an immense technical ability and reading of the game.
A central midfielder by trade, Van de Beek is incredibly versatile, which makes him an asset across the park. At Ajax, he is deployed as a number six or eight in a midfield three, but is able to split opposition lines with his movement into wider and more advanced positions on the pitch. His freedom at Ajax allows him to make impressive runs from deep, supporting the attack with a crisp pass or by finishing a moves off himself.
His ability to shift wide when in a midfield three also makes him a handy option in a more advanced role, or even while occupying one of the traditional ‘winger’ spots. This makes him the perfect candidate for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s preferred 4-2-3-1, which deploys a double pivot that isn’t too dissimilar to the one Van de Beek finds himself in at Ajax.
Chipping in with 10 goals and 11 assists in all competitions this season, while Van de Beek has averaged 1.8 shots per game and 1.9 key passes per game in the Eredivisie this season, but only averages one dribble per game in the league.
The stats reinforce exactly how Van de Beek best plays; off the ball, the Dutch international makes intelligent runs and utilises the space he has around him to his advantage, allowing either himself or a teammate to progress an attack. While a potential midfield pairing of himself and Paul Pogba might prove too adventurous and leave United open through the centre, Van de Beek could thrive from the right flank or likely behind the striker, in front of the two deeper midfielders.
On paper, this sounds like a concern, considering that Bruno Fernandes has thrived in that exact central role for United since signing in January, but the move would still make sense. With Van de Beek still not nearly as polished as the Portuguese playmaker, being used as a rotation option would keep competition for places high and improve United’s quality in depth – an issue that is glaringly obvious despite the upturn of form at the end of the season.
The potential for link-up play between Fernandes and Pogba – who both possess incredible passing ranges – with Van de Beek would further strengthen United’s attack, should he occupy a wide position. The two would be able to find him with his impressive movement, or find a teammate thanks to the space he would open up.
Signing Donny van de Beek would be a huge step in the right direction for Manchester United, arguably more so than signing Jack Grealish would be. Instead of overpaying for the English talent who already exists within the Premier League, it would show a more patient approach to recruitment and a genuine commitment to further improving what is an exciting squad on the surface.
While nothing is certain and this summer’s transfer window will prove more difficult than ever to get deals done, if United can get Van de Beek to commit to their project for the long-term, it could prove the best bit of business they’ve conducted in a long time.