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Understanding Donny Van de Beek’s Transfer

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The Dutchman’s move to Real Madrid is imminent, but how does he fit and how do fans perceive his arrival?

Vitesse v Ajax - Dutch Eredivisie Photo by Soccrates/Getty Images

Dutch Outlet, Voetbal Primeur, reached out to Managing Madrid’s Matt Wiltse for the Madrid perspective on Donny Van de Beek’s potential arrival. Link to that article (in dutch) is here. English parallel for MM readers below:


Ajax stole the hearts and minds of football romantics all across the world last season. Their giant-killing displays against Real Madrid and Juventus, coupled with their dominance in the Eredivisie showed the world that Erik ten Hag had created something special. A team that is predicated on the most precocious of young talent has already seen two of their most prominent players poached to Europe’s elite, with De Jong moving to FC Barcelona and Matthijs De Ligt joining Italian giant, Juventus. Reports have suggested that a third Dutchman may be on his way out of Ajax, 22-year-old Donny Van de Beek is closing in on an imminent move to Real Madrid. So what do Madrid fans think of his signing?

For most of the world, Van de Beek was relatively unknown before the final six months of the 2018-2019 season. If you were to ask a Madridista who they would have preferred from that impressive Ajax team, it would have likely been either De Ligt or De Jong. Though, one of the unsung heroes of that Ajax team, Van de Beek, wreaked havoc on Madrid in the Bernabeu and impressed while on the big stage of the Champions League.

In Spain, Donny would be characterized as a midfielder with “llegada”, meaning arrival. He has the coveted ability to make late arriving runs into the opposition’s box and clinically convert his opportunities into goals. He is seen as a player in the modern game, similar to Aaron Ramsey or his Dutch counterpart, Rafael Van der Vaart. Some may argue he has a greater versatility than those two midfielders as he can also operate in deeper positions in midfield. Van de Beek, though, is recognized as a goal threat and midfielder with end product (i.e. goals and assists) – something desperately lacking in the current Madrid midfield. At 22-years-old, all Madridista’s agree, he has plenty of upside, but some questions still linger.

Is Van de Beek really ready for the step up to Real Madrid? For most football fans, and particularly for, Real Madrid fans, the Spanish club is the pinnacle of football. But it’s also the ultimate challenge, a move to Real Madrid means the attention is magnified ten-fold. Every move a player makes – both on and off the field – is scrutinized and discussed. The pressure and competition at a big club can weigh on even the most talented of players. Is Van de Beek a better player than Dani Ceballos? Or Isco? Or James? What about the high hopes Madrid fans procure for Martin Odegaard? Does this affect his future? Those are the questions that remain and at €50, €60, or €70 million, is Van de Beek significantly better than the names above? Most fans would say they were impressed with Donny last season, but there are doubts over the impact and overall necessity of his signing.

Since Zidane re-took the reins at Real Madrid, there has been a clear pattern in the type of midfielder that has been linked to the club. It’s a midfielder that has the athletic and physical ability to run from box to box, but also a player with goals and assists to his game. The question for Madrid fans shouldn’t be is Donny Van de Beek a better player than Isco or Dani Ceballos, it should be whether he is the right fit and the right profile of player. Van de Beek’s profile is exactly what Zidane is looking for: goals + engine. For Madrid, goals will have to come from all positions on the pitch after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, and none of Kroos, Modric, Isco, Ceballos, Valverde, etc. have ever surpassed the ten goal mark in a single season. That can be the Dutchman’s niche and his edge in a bid to break into the starting XI.

Zidane reiterated time and time again last season, “there will be changes”. But to the dismay of Madrid fans, preseason has shown very little change. Even with big name signings like Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, and Ferland Mendy – it looks like only the Belgian will be a part of the starting eleven. Though, there has been a shift in system. Zidane looks to be moving away from a 4-3-3 and incorporating both a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1 into his playbook. This favors Van de Beek, as there is an opportunity for him in both formations. Within the 4-4-2, Donny can occupy the position just behind the striker. The shape would likely morph into something similar to a 4-4-1-1. Isco has played that role in preseason, but Van de Beek would be a more natural fit, and again, would bring goals. In the second system, 4-2-3-1, Donny again would be playing in the “#10” role as a central attacking midfielder. He can utilize his ability to ghost into the box and show off his ice cold composure when finishing. With the plethora of options at Madrid’s disposal, Van de Beek would be competing with a number of players, but in particular: Isco, Jovic, and Modric (if pushed into that role with Kroos and Casemiro potentially sitting deeper).

But there is yet another factor that may come into the play; the arrival of Paul Pogba from Manchester United. It seems the two are not mutually exclusive, in fact, if reports from the Spanish media are to be believed Madrid want to incorporate both Pogba and Van de Beek into their squad. In the two aforementioned formations, Pogba would likely sit in the heart of midfield as box-to-box player. Though, in a 4-2-3-1, there is an option to play Pogba in a more advanced role which could curtail Van de Beek’s minutes and push him to the bench. With less than a week remaining in the Premier League transfer window, Paul Pogba’s future will be determined shortly. Most Madrid fans feel he will end up coming this summer. His brothers are securing move to Spanish clubs, he himself has said he is ready for a new challenge, and the allure of playing in the white shirt of Madrid under the orders of French legend Zinedine Zidane is too difficult to pass up. United are playing hard ball, but it will likely come down to the final day before all is said and done.

After an awful start to preseason and a gut-wrenching 7-3 loss to rivals Atletico, it’s clear that the squad still needs further rejuvenation. Van de Beek has been a name on Madrid’s target list for some time, but the poor showing in preseason more than likely helped to expedite his signing and push it over the ledge. Fans shudder at the idea of another season like last year. It’s hard enough to go trophy-less for a Madridista, but the lack of intensity, the lethargy, and the lack of a cohesive system made many want to pull their hair out. Zidane and the club hierarchy will be doing everything possible to avoid that disaster. If Van de Beek can bring goals, assists, and his relentless engine to the Bernabeu, then he will quickly win over the Madrid faithful.