When it emerged that ‘totaalvoetbal’ would be returning to Old Trafford with the signing of Donny van de Beek, the red half of Manchester couldn’t help but feel exuberant at the thought of seeing the philosophy in action.

Instead, the former Ajax midfielder’s first season was one to forget.

He made 19 Premier League appearances, most from the bench, scoring just one goal. The same goes for his assist tally.

The situation looked even bleaker when Van de Beek pulled out of Euro 2020 due to injury. A chance to represent his country faded into thin air.

United paid Ajax around £40million for the Dutchman and there was a general consensus in the fanbase that this represented good value. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s other target, Jack Grealish, proved too pricey in a Covid-affected market.

Yet, the way the mind works is curious. It’s often easy to forget how good a player is if he has one bad season. Football is a reactionary and highly political game.

We’re talking about a player who once attracted interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Donny van de Beek of Manchester United gives a thumbs up during the pre-season friendly match between Manchester United and Brentford at Old Trafford on July 28, 2021 in Manchester, England.
Van de Beek warming up (Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

There is a reason United splashed out on someone who was considered one of the best products to come out of Ajax’s ‘class of 2019.’

And, judging by recent events, he has the mentality to succeed at Old Trafford.

Bruno Fernandes, arguably United’s talisman in midfield, noticed the off-field work Van de Beek had been putting in to ensure his physique was up to speed for the forthcoming season;

“Yes, he’s working hard and working hard in the gym. Obviously, he is one of the quality players and we know he’s building up,” he told United’s official website.

Indeed, other teammates have noticed it too.

When a photo emerged on social media of Van de Beek calling for the ball, users noticed the muscular transformations to his frame when the captain’s armband was tightly wrapped around his left arm.

Harry Maguire commented on United’s official post of the picture, jokingly saying: “Don’t stretch that armband @donnyvdbeek *eyes emoji*.”

Despite the knockbacks, it’s obvious he wants to fight for his place in Solskjaer’s side.

There’s also his undeniable footballing ability.

In Amsterdam, he was a fan favourite because of his intelligence and ability to think one step ahead of anyone else.

Donny van de Beek of Ajax during the Club Friendly match between Ajax v Hertha BSC at the Johan Cruijff Arena on August 25, 2020 in Amsterdam Netherlands
Van de Beek at Ajax (Photo by Rico Brouwer/Soccrates/Getty Images)

This was also due to his versatility. Whilst he was able to play the number 10 role, where he excelled was in the box-to-box position in midfield, comfortable travelling with the ball with both of his feet.

Too many individuals often compared Van de Beek and Fernandes, but this would only influence your opinions on the player. When you separate the two and see them for who they are, you’re looking at two completely different people with dissimilar attributes.

Due to his all-round abilities, Van de Beek can operate as a ball-carrier in a 4-3-3 setup or sufficiently utilised in an attacking midfielder position. This is key, due to the signing of Raphaël Varane.

Solskjaer has explicitly claimed United now have “different ways of playing” with the signing of the Frenchman. If he does move to this formation, it arguably might suit Van de Beek better than the 4-2-3-1.

That isn’t to say he cannot play in this system too. At Ajax, he was commonly seen in a midfield pivot, similar to how Solskjaer set up United last season. But, playing in a midfield three will allow him to shine.

Another aspect of Van de Beek that we rarely saw last season was his eagerness to join in with offensive opportunities. A well-regarded usage of darting forward in the penalty area was one of the key components to his game, hence registering a domestic tally of 10 goals and 11 assists before he joined United. ‘That goal’ in the Champions League semi-final first leg against Tottenham Hotspur in 2019 is another example of this. If he can bring this back to his game, supporters are in for a treat.

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His experience of European football will be valuable in this season’s run in the Champions League. When Ajax reached the semi-finals, he scored three goals in the knockout stages. At 24, he carries heaps of experience.

It was also a bit of a myth that Van de Beek wasn’t defensively aware too.

Before his big move to United, he averaged 2.2 tackles per game, made 44 tackles and pressed for possession on 237 occasions.

Competition for a spot in the starting 11 is absolutely essential for keeping people on their toes. Solskjaer wanted United to be the most pressing team in the league and if Van de Beek has put in the hard work as his physique suggests, we could see a resurrection of the player.