Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong says small pearls of wisdom from the legendary Lionel Messi are helping him become a better player, as he continues to adapt to life in Catalonia.
De Jong’s first season in La Liga has been a disruptive one for reasons out of his control. Since arriving for close to £70m from Ajax, manager Ernesto Valverde has been replaced by Quique Setién, and the club’s boardroom turmoil has spilled onto the pitch, with Messi engaging in a public war of words with director of football Eric Abidal – a conflict that has reportedly split the dressing room.
The Covid-19 crisis that has brought football to a halt since March, and its subsequent financial implications, has created further uncertainty, but while it has been a tumultuous season off the pitch, De Jong’s development has been one of a few bright spots on it.
The Dutchman had started all but four matches in all competitions prior to the season being paused in March, and is expected to feature again when Barça’s campaign finally resumes at Mallorca on Saturday.
The 23-year-old has improved as the season has worn on and, speaking to the BBC, he says this is due to a combination of getting to grips with the Catalan side’s 4-3-3 system and the advice given to him by six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi.
“In Ajax and the Dutch squad I’ve had a different role but we’re playing with a double six [two defensive midfielders],” De Jong said.
“I have to adapt and it’s going OK, but I can improve. I’m at my best when I’m not the most defensive but also not the most attacking.
“If Lionel Messi is talking and giving you advice you take it as he is by far the best player in the world. If he gives advice, you listen.
“Sometimes he says you have to be deeper or to the side, small things but it makes the difference.”
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