• Van de Beek has won the Dutch league and cup with Ajax, made the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or in 2019 and was in the Netherlands squad that reached the 2019 Nations League final.
• They play 4-3-3 but he gives them the alternative of playing with a diamond and two up front, to rest Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, who ran out of steam at the end of the season.
He is an established Netherlands international who has scored big Champions League goals against Tottenham, Juventus and Chelsea and, for a fee of £35m, looks to be a bargain at the age of 23.
But did Manchester United need Donny van de Beek?
The midfielder was widely expected to leave Ajax after their thrilling run to the semi-finals of the Champions League a year ago but he has now made his move to the Premier League on a five-year deal.
Van de Beek has won the Dutch league and cup with Ajax, made the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or in 2019 and was in the Netherlands squad that reached the 2019 Nations League final.
What can he add to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United side? Who will he replace? And where can he play?
The six who’s a 10?
United ended last season in fine form and played a fairly straight 4-3-3, with key January signing Bruno Fernandes tending to play ahead of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic in midfield.
Could Van de Beek play alongside Pogba and Fernandes in a three? A look at his stats from Ajax last season suggests he is much closer in style to Fernandes than he is to any of United’s other midfielders.
He plays fewer passes and is on the ball less often, but drifts into space high up the pitch and is a goal threat. Last season he scored eight times and picked up five assists in the Dutch league, a long way short of Fernandes’ fine haul of 16 league goals and 14 assists for Sporting and United combined, but still way ahead of his other new Old Trafford team-mates.
Will he add goals?
In fact, Van de Beek averaged 7.8 touches in the opposition penalty area per 90 minutes in the Eredivisie last season, the highest average in the league among midfielders with 1,000+ minutes played.
The Dutch league may not be as strong as the Premier League — but only five players in the English top flight had more touches per game in the opposition box — namely Raheem Sterling, Mohamed Salah, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Gabriel Jesus. So he is in good company.
Defensively, Van de Beek wins more tackles and makes more interceptions than Pogba — but United may still need a shielding player such as Nemanja Matic or Fred for some, if not all matches.
United have been monitoring Van de Beek for a while but Real Madrid had the first option on him — United were offered a way back in when the Spanish champions allowed that to expire. There are enough entry points at Ajax, including former United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar as chief executive, to have made negotiations straightforward.
Solskjaer has been looking for attacking reinforcements. We know with the Jadon Sancho transfer that United have been wary of committing to massive fees and they see this as a good value move. Every club needs to balance the books to a certain extent and Ajax’s model is always to sell their best players. That’s the way they work.
It was evident Solskjaer did not trust his back-up players. He named the same XI a lot after last season’s restart and did not make a change in the Europa League semi-final defeat by Sevilla until the 87th minute. If he had faith in those players he would have brought them on before he did.
United view this as the start of something. Qualifying for the Champions League was a staging post, not the end goal. If Leicester had not fallen away so dramatically in the second half of 2019-20, they would not have even had an opening, so they got away with it last term and they need more players.
Van de Beek gives them options. They play 4-3-3 but he gives them the alternative of playing with a diamond and two up front, to rest Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, who ran out of steam at the end of the season.
We might not find out Solskjaer’s first-choice XI is for a little while — and if Sancho does come that will be another ‘problem’ for him.