The end of the 2014/2015 European football season cannot come any sooner for the tough-tackling midfielder who has experienced a largely forgettable chapter in his career.

  • By Adrian Bucher
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This season was supposed to hold a lot of promise for Nigel de Jong. Having played a vital role in the Netherland’s third place finish at last summer’s FIFA World Cup, as well as glimpses of a plan underway at AC Milan, the 2014/2015 season seemed like things would fall nicely into place for the Amsterdam-native. However, things have not gone to plan, and de Jong now finds himself at an uncomfortable crossroads during the final stages of his career when he can be labelled as a starting player for a team of consequence.

At club level, any signs of a plan at AC Milan have long since evaporated, with the Serie A side struggling for form, finding themselves in eighth place – 9 points shy of a ensuring European football next season. The situation is not that much better at the international level. With seven points from a possible fifteen, the Oranje are, not only six points behind group A leaders, the Czech Republic, but also have the joint second-worst record of all third-placed teams. Though the common denominator for the woes of these two sides seems to include de Jong, the truth is that poor managerial decisions of both organizations have led to a frustrating season for the former Ajax, Hamburg and Manchester City player.

Malaise at Milan

The appointment of Clarence Seedorf mid-way through the 2013/2014 season seemed to do wonders for de Jong, as the four-time UEFA Champions League winner had been an idol of his, and had followed a similar career path that had seen both men play for Ajax, AC Milan and the Dutch national team. Though overall performances did improve under Seedorf , the Milan management arguably never considered their former star as a long term coach and soon appointed another former player, Filippo Inzaghi as his replacement. Though early signs were promising, Inzaghi’s lack of tactical understanding of the game has seen Milan struggle this season. The constant changes to the starting XI and formation has meant that the roles asked of de Jong has varied wildly this season.

The Dutch midfielder has seen his role switch between being deployed as a single pivot, as part of a double pivot, and even as a deep-lying playmaker. Week-in, week-out, there is a lack of certainty as to which players will make up the midfield, or how many. Added to this is the poor quality of Milan’s midfield personnel, with de Jong having to play alongside of the likes of players past their sell-by date, such as Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari, or players lacking in technical ability or a specified role, such as Andrea Poli. Regardless, the lack of tactical cohesion between the midfield and attack has, more often than not, meant that de Jong has had to slip deeper in defense under the constant opposition pressure. Without much support from his teammates going forward, there have been many backward passes made by de Jong – earning much criticism from fans in Italy. With his contract due to expire this summer, de Jong’s days at the San Siro may already be numbered.

van Gaal Vacuum

In all honesty, there was always going to be a lot of pressure for whoever took the reigns of the Oranje following Louis van Gaal’s departure from the national side after last summer’s third-place finish in Brazil, however, few would have imagined such a spectacular fall from grace. Criticized for playing too many defensive players and imposing a system that does not match the men at his disposal, Guus Hiddink has had a barren run during his second stint as the head coach of the national side. As is the problem that is all too familiar at club level, de Jong again finds glaring tactical issues at the center of the footballing quagmire the national side are experiencing.

It is almost criminal to see the differences in the Dutch style of play between the World Cup and their most recent outing against Turkey. With players failing to follow the role outlined by Hiddink, as they do not play to the strengths of the team, and struggling to recapture the form that made them one of the favorites to lift World Cup, de Jong has once again been criticized for his style of play in response to these lackluster tactics – holding onto plenty of possession, but not meaningful offensive contributions.

Nigel de Jong’s role over the years have called for him to act as the midfield enforcer, and it has never been expected of him to provide a serious attacking threat. With pressure mounting on both the national side and Milan, fans from both countries have not spared de Jong in voicing their dissatisfaction of their team’s performances. An imminent departure from the fallen Italian giants, as well as international retirement at the age of 30 may not seem out of the question for a player hoping to earn a winner’s medal or two before calling time permanently.

Adrian Bucher (39 Posts)