Interview

“When he talks, you listen”

A new season, a new coach, a new challenge – as Frenkie de Jong gears up for his second campaign at Barcelona, he tells us about life in the Catalan capital and what it’s like working with Ronald Koeman again

INTERVIEW Graham Hunter

There is a smile on the face of Frenkie de Jong as he recalls the advice Ronald Koeman first gave him on joining Barcelona two summers ago: stay out of the restaurants and don’t eat too much. Having successfully followed that guidance, the 23-year-old will now have plenty more time to learn from his former Netherlands coach, who returned to Barcelona in August. Here De Jong looks ahead to the new campaign, discusses life so far under the new coach and explains his game.

What’s it like living in Barcelona?

Life in Barcelona's really comfortable. The climate is really good, better than in Holland. We have the beach, we have the mountains, people are nice to me. So I'm enjoying living in Barcelona a lot.

What has moving abroad taught you?

The thing I miss most about Holland is my family. I like my family and friends close to me. I think that is the most difficult thing when you're moving to another country, because the country itself, and Barcelona as a city, is amazing. It's more that family and friends are further away from you. 

Theres a link between your country and this country. Heres a list of names: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Ronald Koeman, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Frenkie de Jong… How is Barcelona viewed and thought about back in the Netherlands?

FC Barcelona are really popular in Holland because, of course, a lot of Dutch players have played for Barcelona. And Johan Cruyff was the greatest Dutch player of all time, played here and had a big influence on the club.

It’s been a difficult year for Barça but in football terms, what have you learned? 

It's always difficult to tell whether I learned this, or this, or this. You're just developing in general as a person as well as a footballer, because if you're training and playing at the level we have at Barcelona, and the opponents we’re playing, you're getting better as a player. I think that’s normal. But it has been a difficult year for us because we didn't win any trophies and there have been a lot of changes at the club.

Before you joined from Ajax you phoned up Ronald Koeman. What did he tell you?

He was really positive about Barcelona as a club as well as a city. What he told me was almost all positive. He just told me that I have to be careful, that I [shouldn’t] go to restaurants too much or eat too much, because life is really good in Barcelona and sometimes you can feel like you're on vacation the whole year. He said: “Be careful with that and for the rest, everything is really good.”

You’re smiling as you talk about it. It was like a happy memory, thinking about that conversation. 

Yeah, of course, because it's funny when he's saying you have to be careful because the food is really good; [be careful] that you're not going out too much, that you're not eating too much in restaurants. You need to enjoy life but not too much, you know, because at the end of the day, football is the main part.

Frenkie de Jong (top) is in his second season at Barça. De Jong in conversation with Ronald Koeman while with the Dutch national team (above)

Koeman has already said that he envisages you playing back in the pivot role where you were so successful for Erik ten Hag at Ajax, and where you played with the Dutch national team. Tell us about the demands of that position.

It depends on what the coach wants you to do, because you can play it in different ways. The way I played it before was to set up the play for the attackers, and to give them the ball in good positions so they can make the difference for the team.

Do you enjoy having the ball at your feet, coming from somewhere near the back and seeing the game in front of you, rather than receiving the ball on the half-turn high up?

Yeah. I want to receive the ball early and to set up the play a bit. That is more my style than waiting for the ball and receiving it up front, and touching the ball less. I like to touch the ball a lot of times during the game to set up plays, to combine with players. I think I feel more comfortable in the pivot position, but I can also play high up front. It doesn’t matter for me so much but, if I had to choose, I would rather play as a double pivot than, for example, as a mediapunta [attacking midfielder].

Koeman played in a similar area so he knows precisely the things that you’ve been talking about. Does that help?

I think the communication between the coach and me is really good. He tells me exactly what he demands from me in this position, and everything is really clear.

Is he a good teacher?

He has this natural authority. When he’s talking, you are listening to him because he this power – I don’t know how to explain it – and, of course, he has a lot of knowledge about football because he understands the game and has been a great player before. If he tries to teach you something, you listen.

You’re happy, of course, that Lionel Messi has stayed. But it’s not easy playing with a genius, to learn exactly what to do in the process you talked about, seeing the ball and giving the creative players the best opportunity. Is that fair?

No. When you have Messi you have the best player in the world in your team, so you try to get him into the best positions to make a difference. Of course we need to adapt to him, but when he is receiving the ball in a position where he can make the difference, he will make it for you, always.

We have a signed Frenkie de Jong ball and shirt to give away. Visit our competitions page to find out more.

Easy spinach pizza crust

There is a smile on the face of Frenkie de Jong as he recalls the advice Ronald Koeman first gave him on joining Barcelona two summers ago: stay out of the restaurants and don’t eat too much. Having successfully followed that guidance, the 23-year-old will now have plenty more time to learn from his former Netherlands coach, who returned to Barcelona in August. Here De Jong looks ahead to the new campaign, discusses life so far under the new coach and explains his game.

What’s it like living in Barcelona?

Life in Barcelona's really comfortable. The climate is really good, better than in Holland. We have the beach, we have the mountains, people are nice to me. So I'm enjoying living in Barcelona a lot.

What has moving abroad taught you?

The thing I miss most about Holland is my family. I like my family and friends close to me. I think that is the most difficult thing when you're moving to another country, because the country itself, and Barcelona as a city, is amazing. It's more that family and friends are further away from you. 

Theres a link between your country and this country. Heres a list of names: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Ronald Koeman, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Frenkie de Jong… How is Barcelona viewed and thought about back in the Netherlands?

FC Barcelona are really popular in Holland because, of course, a lot of Dutch players have played for Barcelona. And Johan Cruyff was the greatest Dutch player of all time, played here and had a big influence on the club.

It’s been a difficult year for Barça but in football terms, what have you learned? 

It's always difficult to tell whether I learned this, or this, or this. You're just developing in general as a person as well as a footballer, because if you're training and playing at the level we have at Barcelona, and the opponents we’re playing, you're getting better as a player. I think that’s normal. But it has been a difficult year for us because we didn't win any trophies and there have been a lot of changes at the club.

Before you joined from Ajax you phoned up Ronald Koeman. What did he tell you?

He was really positive about Barcelona as a club as well as a city. What he told me was almost all positive. He just told me that I have to be careful, that I [shouldn’t] go to restaurants too much or eat too much, because life is really good in Barcelona and sometimes you can feel like you're on vacation the whole year. He said: “Be careful with that and for the rest, everything is really good.”

You’re smiling as you talk about it. It was like a happy memory, thinking about that conversation. 

Yeah, of course, because it's funny when he's saying you have to be careful because the food is really good; [be careful] that you're not going out too much, that you're not eating too much in restaurants. You need to enjoy life but not too much, you know, because at the end of the day, football is the main part.

Frenkie de Jong (top) is in his second season at Barça. De Jong in conversation with Ronald Koeman while with the Dutch national team (above)

Koeman has already said that he envisages you playing back in the pivot role where you were so successful for Erik ten Hag at Ajax, and where you played with the Dutch national team. Tell us about the demands of that position.

It depends on what the coach wants you to do, because you can play it in different ways. The way I played it before was to set up the play for the attackers, and to give them the ball in good positions so they can make the difference for the team.

Do you enjoy having the ball at your feet, coming from somewhere near the back and seeing the game in front of you, rather than receiving the ball on the half-turn high up?

Yeah. I want to receive the ball early and to set up the play a bit. That is more my style than waiting for the ball and receiving it up front, and touching the ball less. I like to touch the ball a lot of times during the game to set up plays, to combine with players. I think I feel more comfortable in the pivot position, but I can also play high up front. It doesn’t matter for me so much but, if I had to choose, I would rather play as a double pivot than, for example, as a mediapunta [attacking midfielder].

Koeman played in a similar area so he knows precisely the things that you’ve been talking about. Does that help?

I think the communication between the coach and me is really good. He tells me exactly what he demands from me in this position, and everything is really clear.

Is he a good teacher?

He has this natural authority. When he’s talking, you are listening to him because he this power – I don’t know how to explain it – and, of course, he has a lot of knowledge about football because he understands the game and has been a great player before. If he tries to teach you something, you listen.

You’re happy, of course, that Lionel Messi has stayed. But it’s not easy playing with a genius, to learn exactly what to do in the process you talked about, seeing the ball and giving the creative players the best opportunity. Is that fair?

No. When you have Messi you have the best player in the world in your team, so you try to get him into the best positions to make a difference. Of course we need to adapt to him, but when he is receiving the ball in a position where he can make the difference, he will make it for you, always.

We have a signed Frenkie de Jong ball and shirt to give away. Visit our competitions page to find out more.

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

There is a smile on the face of Frenkie de Jong as he recalls the advice Ronald Koeman first gave him on joining Barcelona two summers ago: stay out of the restaurants and don’t eat too much. Having successfully followed that guidance, the 23-year-old will now have plenty more time to learn from his former Netherlands coach, who returned to Barcelona in August. Here De Jong looks ahead to the new campaign, discusses life so far under the new coach and explains his game.

What’s it like living in Barcelona?

Life in Barcelona's really comfortable. The climate is really good, better than in Holland. We have the beach, we have the mountains, people are nice to me. So I'm enjoying living in Barcelona a lot.

What has moving abroad taught you?

The thing I miss most about Holland is my family. I like my family and friends close to me. I think that is the most difficult thing when you're moving to another country, because the country itself, and Barcelona as a city, is amazing. It's more that family and friends are further away from you. 

Theres a link between your country and this country. Heres a list of names: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Ronald Koeman, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Frenkie de Jong… How is Barcelona viewed and thought about back in the Netherlands?

FC Barcelona are really popular in Holland because, of course, a lot of Dutch players have played for Barcelona. And Johan Cruyff was the greatest Dutch player of all time, played here and had a big influence on the club.

It’s been a difficult year for Barça but in football terms, what have you learned? 

It's always difficult to tell whether I learned this, or this, or this. You're just developing in general as a person as well as a footballer, because if you're training and playing at the level we have at Barcelona, and the opponents we’re playing, you're getting better as a player. I think that’s normal. But it has been a difficult year for us because we didn't win any trophies and there have been a lot of changes at the club.

Before you joined from Ajax you phoned up Ronald Koeman. What did he tell you?

He was really positive about Barcelona as a club as well as a city. What he told me was almost all positive. He just told me that I have to be careful, that I [shouldn’t] go to restaurants too much or eat too much, because life is really good in Barcelona and sometimes you can feel like you're on vacation the whole year. He said: “Be careful with that and for the rest, everything is really good.”

You’re smiling as you talk about it. It was like a happy memory, thinking about that conversation. 

Yeah, of course, because it's funny when he's saying you have to be careful because the food is really good; [be careful] that you're not going out too much, that you're not eating too much in restaurants. You need to enjoy life but not too much, you know, because at the end of the day, football is the main part.

Frenkie de Jong (top) is in his second season at Barça. De Jong in conversation with Ronald Koeman while with the Dutch national team (above)

Koeman has already said that he envisages you playing back in the pivot role where you were so successful for Erik ten Hag at Ajax, and where you played with the Dutch national team. Tell us about the demands of that position.

It depends on what the coach wants you to do, because you can play it in different ways. The way I played it before was to set up the play for the attackers, and to give them the ball in good positions so they can make the difference for the team.

Do you enjoy having the ball at your feet, coming from somewhere near the back and seeing the game in front of you, rather than receiving the ball on the half-turn high up?

Yeah. I want to receive the ball early and to set up the play a bit. That is more my style than waiting for the ball and receiving it up front, and touching the ball less. I like to touch the ball a lot of times during the game to set up plays, to combine with players. I think I feel more comfortable in the pivot position, but I can also play high up front. It doesn’t matter for me so much but, if I had to choose, I would rather play as a double pivot than, for example, as a mediapunta [attacking midfielder].

Koeman played in a similar area so he knows precisely the things that you’ve been talking about. Does that help?

I think the communication between the coach and me is really good. He tells me exactly what he demands from me in this position, and everything is really clear.

Is he a good teacher?

He has this natural authority. When he’s talking, you are listening to him because he this power – I don’t know how to explain it – and, of course, he has a lot of knowledge about football because he understands the game and has been a great player before. If he tries to teach you something, you listen.

You’re happy, of course, that Lionel Messi has stayed. But it’s not easy playing with a genius, to learn exactly what to do in the process you talked about, seeing the ball and giving the creative players the best opportunity. Is that fair?

No. When you have Messi you have the best player in the world in your team, so you try to get him into the best positions to make a difference. Of course we need to adapt to him, but when he is receiving the ball in a position where he can make the difference, he will make it for you, always.

We have a signed Frenkie de Jong ball and shirt to give away. Visit our competitions page to find out more.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

Interview

“When he talks, you listen”

A new season, a new coach, a new challenge – as Frenkie de Jong gears up for his second campaign at Barcelona, he tells us about life in the Catalan capital and what it’s like working with Ronald Koeman again

INTERVIEW Graham Hunter

There is a smile on the face of Frenkie de Jong as he recalls the advice Ronald Koeman first gave him on joining Barcelona two summers ago: stay out of the restaurants and don’t eat too much. Having successfully followed that guidance, the 23-year-old will now have plenty more time to learn from his former Netherlands coach, who returned to Barcelona in August. Here De Jong looks ahead to the new campaign, discusses life so far under the new coach and explains his game.

What’s it like living in Barcelona?

Life in Barcelona's really comfortable. The climate is really good, better than in Holland. We have the beach, we have the mountains, people are nice to me. So I'm enjoying living in Barcelona a lot.

What has moving abroad taught you?

The thing I miss most about Holland is my family. I like my family and friends close to me. I think that is the most difficult thing when you're moving to another country, because the country itself, and Barcelona as a city, is amazing. It's more that family and friends are further away from you. 

Theres a link between your country and this country. Heres a list of names: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Ronald Koeman, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Frenkie de Jong… How is Barcelona viewed and thought about back in the Netherlands?

FC Barcelona are really popular in Holland because, of course, a lot of Dutch players have played for Barcelona. And Johan Cruyff was the greatest Dutch player of all time, played here and had a big influence on the club.

It’s been a difficult year for Barça but in football terms, what have you learned? 

It's always difficult to tell whether I learned this, or this, or this. You're just developing in general as a person as well as a footballer, because if you're training and playing at the level we have at Barcelona, and the opponents we’re playing, you're getting better as a player. I think that’s normal. But it has been a difficult year for us because we didn't win any trophies and there have been a lot of changes at the club.

Before you joined from Ajax you phoned up Ronald Koeman. What did he tell you?

He was really positive about Barcelona as a club as well as a city. What he told me was almost all positive. He just told me that I have to be careful, that I [shouldn’t] go to restaurants too much or eat too much, because life is really good in Barcelona and sometimes you can feel like you're on vacation the whole year. He said: “Be careful with that and for the rest, everything is really good.”

You’re smiling as you talk about it. It was like a happy memory, thinking about that conversation. 

Yeah, of course, because it's funny when he's saying you have to be careful because the food is really good; [be careful] that you're not going out too much, that you're not eating too much in restaurants. You need to enjoy life but not too much, you know, because at the end of the day, football is the main part.

Frenkie de Jong (top) is in his second season at Barça. De Jong in conversation with Ronald Koeman while with the Dutch national team (above)

Koeman has already said that he envisages you playing back in the pivot role where you were so successful for Erik ten Hag at Ajax, and where you played with the Dutch national team. Tell us about the demands of that position.

It depends on what the coach wants you to do, because you can play it in different ways. The way I played it before was to set up the play for the attackers, and to give them the ball in good positions so they can make the difference for the team.

Do you enjoy having the ball at your feet, coming from somewhere near the back and seeing the game in front of you, rather than receiving the ball on the half-turn high up?

Yeah. I want to receive the ball early and to set up the play a bit. That is more my style than waiting for the ball and receiving it up front, and touching the ball less. I like to touch the ball a lot of times during the game to set up plays, to combine with players. I think I feel more comfortable in the pivot position, but I can also play high up front. It doesn’t matter for me so much but, if I had to choose, I would rather play as a double pivot than, for example, as a mediapunta [attacking midfielder].

Koeman played in a similar area so he knows precisely the things that you’ve been talking about. Does that help?

I think the communication between the coach and me is really good. He tells me exactly what he demands from me in this position, and everything is really clear.

Is he a good teacher?

He has this natural authority. When he’s talking, you are listening to him because he this power – I don’t know how to explain it – and, of course, he has a lot of knowledge about football because he understands the game and has been a great player before. If he tries to teach you something, you listen.

You’re happy, of course, that Lionel Messi has stayed. But it’s not easy playing with a genius, to learn exactly what to do in the process you talked about, seeing the ball and giving the creative players the best opportunity. Is that fair?

No. When you have Messi you have the best player in the world in your team, so you try to get him into the best positions to make a difference. Of course we need to adapt to him, but when he is receiving the ball in a position where he can make the difference, he will make it for you, always.

We have a signed Frenkie de Jong ball and shirt to give away. Visit our competitions page to find out more.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

There is a smile on the face of Frenkie de Jong as he recalls the advice Ronald Koeman first gave him on joining Barcelona two summers ago: stay out of the restaurants and don’t eat too much. Having successfully followed that guidance, the 23-year-old will now have plenty more time to learn from his former Netherlands coach, who returned to Barcelona in August. Here De Jong looks ahead to the new campaign, discusses life so far under the new coach and explains his game.

What’s it like living in Barcelona?

Life in Barcelona's really comfortable. The climate is really good, better than in Holland. We have the beach, we have the mountains, people are nice to me. So I'm enjoying living in Barcelona a lot.

What has moving abroad taught you?

The thing I miss most about Holland is my family. I like my family and friends close to me. I think that is the most difficult thing when you're moving to another country, because the country itself, and Barcelona as a city, is amazing. It's more that family and friends are further away from you. 

Theres a link between your country and this country. Heres a list of names: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Ronald Koeman, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Frenkie de Jong… How is Barcelona viewed and thought about back in the Netherlands?

FC Barcelona are really popular in Holland because, of course, a lot of Dutch players have played for Barcelona. And Johan Cruyff was the greatest Dutch player of all time, played here and had a big influence on the club.

It’s been a difficult year for Barça but in football terms, what have you learned? 

It's always difficult to tell whether I learned this, or this, or this. You're just developing in general as a person as well as a footballer, because if you're training and playing at the level we have at Barcelona, and the opponents we’re playing, you're getting better as a player. I think that’s normal. But it has been a difficult year for us because we didn't win any trophies and there have been a lot of changes at the club.

Before you joined from Ajax you phoned up Ronald Koeman. What did he tell you?

He was really positive about Barcelona as a club as well as a city. What he told me was almost all positive. He just told me that I have to be careful, that I [shouldn’t] go to restaurants too much or eat too much, because life is really good in Barcelona and sometimes you can feel like you're on vacation the whole year. He said: “Be careful with that and for the rest, everything is really good.”

You’re smiling as you talk about it. It was like a happy memory, thinking about that conversation. 

Yeah, of course, because it's funny when he's saying you have to be careful because the food is really good; [be careful] that you're not going out too much, that you're not eating too much in restaurants. You need to enjoy life but not too much, you know, because at the end of the day, football is the main part.

Frenkie de Jong (top) is in his second season at Barça. De Jong in conversation with Ronald Koeman while with the Dutch national team (above)

Koeman has already said that he envisages you playing back in the pivot role where you were so successful for Erik ten Hag at Ajax, and where you played with the Dutch national team. Tell us about the demands of that position.

It depends on what the coach wants you to do, because you can play it in different ways. The way I played it before was to set up the play for the attackers, and to give them the ball in good positions so they can make the difference for the team.

Do you enjoy having the ball at your feet, coming from somewhere near the back and seeing the game in front of you, rather than receiving the ball on the half-turn high up?

Yeah. I want to receive the ball early and to set up the play a bit. That is more my style than waiting for the ball and receiving it up front, and touching the ball less. I like to touch the ball a lot of times during the game to set up plays, to combine with players. I think I feel more comfortable in the pivot position, but I can also play high up front. It doesn’t matter for me so much but, if I had to choose, I would rather play as a double pivot than, for example, as a mediapunta [attacking midfielder].

Koeman played in a similar area so he knows precisely the things that you’ve been talking about. Does that help?

I think the communication between the coach and me is really good. He tells me exactly what he demands from me in this position, and everything is really clear.

Is he a good teacher?

He has this natural authority. When he’s talking, you are listening to him because he this power – I don’t know how to explain it – and, of course, he has a lot of knowledge about football because he understands the game and has been a great player before. If he tries to teach you something, you listen.

You’re happy, of course, that Lionel Messi has stayed. But it’s not easy playing with a genius, to learn exactly what to do in the process you talked about, seeing the ball and giving the creative players the best opportunity. Is that fair?

No. When you have Messi you have the best player in the world in your team, so you try to get him into the best positions to make a difference. Of course we need to adapt to him, but when he is receiving the ball in a position where he can make the difference, he will make it for you, always.

We have a signed Frenkie de Jong ball and shirt to give away. Visit our competitions page to find out more.

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

There is a smile on the face of Frenkie de Jong as he recalls the advice Ronald Koeman first gave him on joining Barcelona two summers ago: stay out of the restaurants and don’t eat too much. Having successfully followed that guidance, the 23-year-old will now have plenty more time to learn from his former Netherlands coach, who returned to Barcelona in August. Here De Jong looks ahead to the new campaign, discusses life so far under the new coach and explains his game.

What’s it like living in Barcelona?

Life in Barcelona's really comfortable. The climate is really good, better than in Holland. We have the beach, we have the mountains, people are nice to me. So I'm enjoying living in Barcelona a lot.

What has moving abroad taught you?

The thing I miss most about Holland is my family. I like my family and friends close to me. I think that is the most difficult thing when you're moving to another country, because the country itself, and Barcelona as a city, is amazing. It's more that family and friends are further away from you. 

Theres a link between your country and this country. Heres a list of names: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Ronald Koeman, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Frenkie de Jong… How is Barcelona viewed and thought about back in the Netherlands?

FC Barcelona are really popular in Holland because, of course, a lot of Dutch players have played for Barcelona. And Johan Cruyff was the greatest Dutch player of all time, played here and had a big influence on the club.

It’s been a difficult year for Barça but in football terms, what have you learned? 

It's always difficult to tell whether I learned this, or this, or this. You're just developing in general as a person as well as a footballer, because if you're training and playing at the level we have at Barcelona, and the opponents we’re playing, you're getting better as a player. I think that’s normal. But it has been a difficult year for us because we didn't win any trophies and there have been a lot of changes at the club.

Before you joined from Ajax you phoned up Ronald Koeman. What did he tell you?

He was really positive about Barcelona as a club as well as a city. What he told me was almost all positive. He just told me that I have to be careful, that I [shouldn’t] go to restaurants too much or eat too much, because life is really good in Barcelona and sometimes you can feel like you're on vacation the whole year. He said: “Be careful with that and for the rest, everything is really good.”

You’re smiling as you talk about it. It was like a happy memory, thinking about that conversation. 

Yeah, of course, because it's funny when he's saying you have to be careful because the food is really good; [be careful] that you're not going out too much, that you're not eating too much in restaurants. You need to enjoy life but not too much, you know, because at the end of the day, football is the main part.

Frenkie de Jong (top) is in his second season at Barça. De Jong in conversation with Ronald Koeman while with the Dutch national team (above)

Koeman has already said that he envisages you playing back in the pivot role where you were so successful for Erik ten Hag at Ajax, and where you played with the Dutch national team. Tell us about the demands of that position.

It depends on what the coach wants you to do, because you can play it in different ways. The way I played it before was to set up the play for the attackers, and to give them the ball in good positions so they can make the difference for the team.

Do you enjoy having the ball at your feet, coming from somewhere near the back and seeing the game in front of you, rather than receiving the ball on the half-turn high up?

Yeah. I want to receive the ball early and to set up the play a bit. That is more my style than waiting for the ball and receiving it up front, and touching the ball less. I like to touch the ball a lot of times during the game to set up plays, to combine with players. I think I feel more comfortable in the pivot position, but I can also play high up front. It doesn’t matter for me so much but, if I had to choose, I would rather play as a double pivot than, for example, as a mediapunta [attacking midfielder].

Koeman played in a similar area so he knows precisely the things that you’ve been talking about. Does that help?

I think the communication between the coach and me is really good. He tells me exactly what he demands from me in this position, and everything is really clear.

Is he a good teacher?

He has this natural authority. When he’s talking, you are listening to him because he this power – I don’t know how to explain it – and, of course, he has a lot of knowledge about football because he understands the game and has been a great player before. If he tries to teach you something, you listen.

You’re happy, of course, that Lionel Messi has stayed. But it’s not easy playing with a genius, to learn exactly what to do in the process you talked about, seeing the ball and giving the creative players the best opportunity. Is that fair?

No. When you have Messi you have the best player in the world in your team, so you try to get him into the best positions to make a difference. Of course we need to adapt to him, but when he is receiving the ball in a position where he can make the difference, he will make it for you, always.

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