Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman has revealed just how highly captain Lionel Messi rates midfielder Frenkie de Jong and how the Argentine loves playing with the Netherlands international at the Camp Nou.
De Jong signed for Barcelona in 2019 after impressing for Ajax and has gone on to become a regular in midfield for the Catalan giants. The 23-year-old is in the midst of an impressive second season at the Camp Nou and is thriving under Koeman.
The Barca boss spoke to De Telegraaf about how impressed Messi has been with De Jong and how the captain is confident the midfielder can go on and improve even further at Barcelona.
“Messi told Frenkie that he is a fantastic player. He becomes happy around a player like Frenkie, because he wants to have pure football players around him. When we talk with the three of us, Messi shares his opinion towards Frenkie,” he said. “He always tries to activate him, as Messi believes that Frenkie can reach a much higher level. He finds him a very intelligent player.”
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Koeman’s Message To De Jong
Koeman has also explained how he spoke to De Jong after replacing Quique Setien as Barcelona boss in August 2020 and told the youngster he would need to step up his performances in his second season at the Camp Nou.
“When I arrived I told Frenkie: this is your second season, you have to make a step higher now, you need to do more than just play along,” he explained. “This sounds cruel, but he got the message. I told him to take more responsibility. To arrive in the opponent’s box more.”
There’s no doubt that De Jong has done exactly as Koeman has asked this season. The Netherlands international has impressed in a variety of positions and demonstrated his versatility.
Koeman has used De Jong in a more attacking role in midfield which has seen the Dutchman weigh in with seven goals and five assists in all competitions. He has also been superb in possession and completed more successful passes than any other player in La Liga.
Yet De Jong has also played a key role in defense when required. Injuries to Gerard Pique, Ronald Araujo, and Sergi Roberto earlier in the season saw the 23-year-old deployed as an emergency center-back on a variety of occasions.
Koeman Praises Messi’s Commitment
Koeman also spoke about Messi and praised the captain for the commitment he’s shown this season. The Argentine asked to leave in the summer but ended up staying at the club and has gone on to score 26 times in La Liga this season.
The Barca boss has revealed just how unhappy Messi was with former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned in October 2020, after coming under increasing pressure.
“Messi’s anger with Bartomeu left a great mark, but Leo never once conveyed to me that he did not want to work with me,” he said. “Neither in training sessions, nor in games, nor when I transmitted my ideas to him. Messi has always given 100% for this club.”
There is optimism around Barcelona that Messi will now continue his career at the club and sign a contract extension. New president Joan Laporta has already said he’s “convinced” Messi will stay.