Nigel de Jong
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Nigel de Jong: City should forget Kane, Cancelo star man this season and United need massive clear-out

| 29.12.2021

De Jong talks City and United

Nigel de Jong won the Premier League and FA Cup with Manchester City between 2009-12 and in an exclusive interview with Ladbrokes the midfield enforcer discussed his former club, their arch rivals United and who may eventually replace Pep Guardiola.

But ahead of the launch of the 5-A-Side Bet in the New Year’s Day lunchtime clash between Arsenal and Manchester City, the Dutchman started his interview by discussing which player Guardiola should look to bring to the club.

Man City have to go all out for Haaland next summer

I would love to see Erling Haaland at Manchester City, simply because of the potential that he has at such a young age. He’s producing exceptional numbers at the highest level in club football, and he’s still to reach his best years as a player. So, if I were in charge of things at Manchester City and I had £130m or so available to me, I would be putting everything into going out and getting Haaland.

With Harry Kane, there’s more of a risk factor. The best time for him to have moved to a big club would have been last summer. I don’t see City going in for him again.

At the beginning of the summer, I was adamant the club needed to bring in a striker, especially after the loss of Sergio Aguero. I still feel like the club needs a number nine to come in to strengthen their chances in Europe. The club is so dominant on a domestic level, but there’s absolutely no doubting the fact that an arrival like Haaland would go a long, long way to taking them to the next level in Europe.

The thing about Haaland is that his hunger is second to none. Even though he’s young, he’s so hungry, he’s obsessed with scoring goals and breaking records. To have that quality at such a young age is brilliant. He’s the closest thing we’re going to see to Robert Lewandowski over the next few years. As much as I love Kane, I don’t see the same levels of hunger from him as I do from Haaland.

We all know Haaland isn’t going to stay at Dortmund, we all know the top clubs in world football that will be chasing his signature, so if I were City, I’d be going all out to get the boy in. His dad was a player here, he knows the history, he has an emotional connection with the club – what more do you need from someone?

Cancelo is my player of the season so far for Man City

I’ve got a lot of love for Joao Cancelo. Bernardo Silva is second to none when it comes down to current form going forward, and he really is stepping into David Silva’s boots more and more with every game. But people always have a tendency to lean towards forward players when looking at their standout players. I like to give credit to the defensive-minded players, so when you see the likes of Cancelo, Rodri and Ruben Dias excelling in the way they have, it’s just great.

For me, Cancelo is a prime example of a player at the top of his game. He came to a new country, not speaking the language, and has faced his fair share of criticism. There were question marks around his commitment, and whether or not he was cut out for the Premier League, but he has so much confidence in his own game and is the perfect player for a Pep Guardiola team.

Joao Cancelo, Lionel Messi

Cancelo is right up there as my standout player for City so far this season. If you look at his stats; successful crosses, assists, goals scored, duels won, tackles made, it’s incredible.

Everybody talks about how much of a threat he poses going forward, but the main job for a wing-back is your defensive qualities. You need to master that side of your game first and foremost, and then you start thinking about what sort of an impact you can have at the other end of the pitch.

He’s a superb defender, and that’s something a lot of people seem to overlook. It’s inevitable that he’s going to be a star player for Manchester City for the foreseeable future.

I want to see Guardiola in charge for another 5-10 years, but Vieira is a number one contender to replace Pep

I don’t really like talking about coaches being linked with other jobs when they’re already at clubs or the current coach is still there – especially in the case of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. If I’m being really honest and looking at things as a fan who loves City dearly, I’d love to see Guardiola in charge for another 5-10 years. I want him to have a similar spell to what Sir Alex Ferguson had at Manchester United, to really amplify his DNA into the club.

The one thing that’s always certain in football, though, as a manager, is that you’re going to move on, be it by getting sacked or by walking.

Patrick Vieira, Palace v Wolves betting tips

Patrick Vieira is always going to be a name that’s linked with the City job because of the relationship he has with the club. It’s the same with Arsenal whenever Mikel Arteta moves on.

There are always going to be rumours flying around, and they’re based on the fact that he’s a leading figure; he led by example as a player and it looks like he does the same as a coach. The transition from player to coach is so different, but Patrick has so far enjoyed great success with Crystal Palace. He’s a number one contender for the Manchester City job, for sure.

I’m sure Ronaldo knows he can do more for United… the situation isn’t as easy as he had it under Fergie

When Cristiano Ronaldo was linked with Man City back in the summer, of course, my first impression was that it would have been a good move. When a name like that pops up, there’s no way that you can say ‘we don’t need him’. Cristiano is Cristiano. I’ve played against him a few times and he’s rightly regarded as one of the best players of our generation. He produced some unbelievable numbers at Juventus, just as he has done throughout his whole career.

But, in the back of my mind, I always thought that him and his team were just reeling City in to get that Man United move, simply because of the emotional attachment to the club. We saw the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Sir Alex Ferguson jumping on board to tell him not to come to City. I do believe there was a contract in place for him at City, but purely to step things up for United to come in and make a move.

At the end of the day, I’m happy that he’s back at Man United over City, because he’s the type of player that a team has to play around. He’s not the type of player who would adjust his game for a team like City.

David de Gea, Cristiano Ronaldo, Victor Lindelof

I don’t think he’s kicking himself for not joining City. He’s big enough and man enough to know that he has to do more for his team, but it’s not going to be easy for him because he’s not 23 anymore. He’s at the back end of his career, so it’s harder for him to find that extra gear.

He was done with Juventus and he wanted a return to the Premier League, so he has to man up and accept the fact that he’s at Man United. He has to step his game up, because everybody is looking at him and wondering whether he can carry the team.

But Cristiano is eager. He’s still hungry, he’s self-critical and I’m sure he knows he can do more for United. The situation isn’t as easy as it was back in the day for him, though, when he had a coach like Sir Alex Ferguson and that old group of players.

Arsenal and West Ham are in a two-horse race for fourth spot

I don’t see Man United finishing in fourth this season, even if they’re currently favourites behind Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea to do so. I think it will be a battle between Arsenal and West Ham.

Arsenal are doing well, but there’s still a long way to go this season. I’m not sure they can sustain this form for the duration of the season. That being said, they don’t have to worry about European football so they have very little in the way of distractions over the next few months.

They’ve got some great young kids who are constantly building on their experience. Obviously their current problem with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang doesn’t help things, so I can see them getting rid of him in January. I think they could do with bringing in two or three more players in January.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Man Utd v Arsenal betting tips

I like Arsenal. They can be a positive force in the second half of the season, but the only way I see them doing that is by bringing in a couple of players next month. There’s a long time between now and the end of the season, and there’s a lot of football to be played in that time. If they do that, then they’ve got every chance of finishing in the top four.

Man United have a bigger issue, for me. I think there’s a big problem surrounding the egos there, and how Ralf Rangnick can keep everything together. The majority of those players are aged 28 and over, so he’s got a big problem on his hands to keep everybody under control. I don’t see them competing for fourth spot.

I’d say it’s between Arsenal and West Ham. I really like David Moyes. If he can keep getting these kind of performances out of his players, there’s no reason why they can’t be right up there at the end of the season. I just hope no clubs go shopping in January for key members of his squad. If he can keep that team together, and maybe bring a couple more names in, I see them and Arsenal going for fourth spot.

Man United can learn from Arsenal and no-nonsense Arteta

At Arsenal, there’s a certain DNA within the club and it’s there for everyone to see – even when they’ve gone through tough times on the pitch. They always try to give opportunities to youngsters. That’s just a part of their DNA, amplified by Mikel Arteta, who is always willing to give young players coming up through the ranks a chance in the first team.

They’re not afraid to make big decisions as a club to get experienced players out of the team in favour of their youngsters. I think it’s something you have to give Arteta a lot of credit for, but also the board, for sticking with him. Don’t get me wrong, it looked for a while like he was really close to losing his job, and results were far from great at one stage, but they stuck with him, and despite all the noise and pressure, he got the time.

Mikel Arteta, Arsenal

It was a statement to not only the media, but to the senior players. It was a ‘look, guys, you can moan all you want, but we’re sticking with this manager, so you can either play his way or there’s the door’.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is their club captain and he experienced it first-hand. Even though he was the captain, he breached protocol, and it means he’s out of the door. That’s something you just don’t see at Manchester United. Pep Guardiola recently did it too with Jack Grealish and Phil Foden – it’s a statement. It’s about getting everyone at the club on the same page, trying to achieve something as a team. That’s something I’m just not getting from United at this moment in time – it doesn’t look like anyone is there to put certain players in their place.

Someone needs to step in who isn’t afraid of saying “you, I don’t want to see you for the next two weeks. Go away and think about things. Whenever you think you’re ready to come back, come back, but for now, I’m taking a young kid from the under-23s who is eager and hungry, and I’m giving him a chance.”

It doesn’t matter who’s in charge of Man United, they have far too many egos that need to move on

Ralf Rangnick is obviously the man in the dugout for Manchester United right now, and it looks like they’ll bring someone else in on a more permanent basis in the summer. But if I’m really being honest, I’ve been watching United closely now for the last three years, and it’s nothing to do with the manager. Louis van Gaal couldn’t do it, Jose Mourinho couldn’t do it, the problem is down to the recruitment of players.

Recruitment of players is second to none when it comes down to shaping a team and its DNA. If you give too much power to certain players, it’s going to be toxic for your whole squad. United have got to get rid of at least five or six players in that team. Someone needs to come in and say “listen, you’ve had a good spell, you’ve picked up some good money, but you’ve got to go”.

They need to get rid of that layer of players who decide everything within the club. The man in charge of the team is irrelevant until they deal with that issue. It doesn’t matter what kind of manager you bring in because things will always go back to that same problem. Too many players are trying to take over things. At this stage, I don’t really care who might or might not come in and replace Rangnick, because they’re going to have the same problems Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Mourinho and Van Gaal have all had.

What I would like to see is the board moving some players on in the summer, even if it’s just on loan. Get them out of the club and pinpoint exactly who has a future at the club.

I’m not going to lie. I can’t sit here and say I don’t dislike where Manchester United are at the moment. As a Man City player and supporter, I like seeing them struggle, of course.

But, if I take that City hat off for a minute, I think United need to be back near the top of the table. I actually think that’s part of what keeps City’s dominance going. You want competition with your local rivals, but at the moment the gap between the two sides is just so big. United need to be back near the top of the table. They have a great history. That’s why they’re such a talking point these days; it’s not necessarily because of how they’ve been playing, it’s more because football fans have come to expect them to always be challenging for trophies, but in recent years they’ve just been so far off the pace.

Seeing them drop to where they are now is crazy, really – but do I like it? Yeah, of course I like it. It’s good to see them struggling down in fifth or sixth place, battling it out for fourth spot.

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Warren Barner