As Donny van de Beek battles to be fit for the final week of Everton’s battle for Premier League survival, there might be knowing nods from successive Manchester United managers who doubted his ability to cope with the demands of the English game.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick both ignored the claims of Van de Beek for a place in a misfiring United midfield and both held similar concerns about his physicality in the center of the pitch in the Premier League.
A January loan move to Everton was an ideal chance for Van de Beek to prove them wrong, but he’s not played in two months now and has made the bench for only one of the Toffees’ previous nine Premier League as he battles niggling injuries.
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Frank Lampard confirmed this week he hoped Van de Beek would be in contention to face Brentford on Sunday and would be available for the final week of the campaign, but given Everton’s upturn in form has happened without him he might remain on the periphery at Goodison Park .
It’s not Van de Beek envisaged his switch down the M62 going when he finally got his move in January. He had wanted to move on loan to Everton in the summer but that move was blocked on deadline day when Solskjaer decided he needed the extra midfielder in his squad.
Van de Beek was extremely disappointed at the decision and to rub salt into the wounds he remained underused by Solskjaer. The departure of Marcel Brands and Rafa Benitez looked to end hopes of a move to Everton, but Lampard remained keen.
But it’s not been the springboard he would have hoped, either to more regularly playing time at Old Trafford or to move elsewhere. Everton lost four of the five league games he started and Lampard’s side have nudged themselves to safety without the Holland international.
Normally that kind of loan spell would signal the end for a player who was struggling to make any impact at United anyway, but there are two reasons for Van de Beek to hope he might get another chance at the club this summer. In his defense of him, his cheerleaders of him could legitimately argue he’s still barely had a chance at all.
One is the lack of senior central midfielders at the club. Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata will all leave the club when their contracts expire at the end of next month. Erik ten Hag might have two midfielders on his wishlist this summer, but some solutions will have to be internal.
Those departures will leave Scott McTominay, Fred and Bruno Fernandes as the only senior central midfielders at the club, so Van de Beek and James Garner will both have the opportunity to impress in pre-season.
Also in Van de Beek’s favor is the appointment of Ten Hag. The 52-year-old got the best out of the midfielder during their time together at Ajax, although their relationship wasn’t always a bed of roses.
This is now a different time, a different club and a different country, however. Van de Beek’s career has stalled since leaving Ajax two years ago and Ten Hag is building a team for success in the Premier League, not the Eredivisie.
Van de Beek has started just nine of 73 Premier League games since he joined United for £35million ahead of the start of last season. He was used as a symbol of discontent against Solskjaer when the Norwegian’s time as United manager was expiring, but his fortunes did not change under Rangnick.
Familiarity under Ten Hag might help Van de Beek rediscover his best form and at 25 there is plenty of time left for him to make a mark somewhere, but for it to be at United he has to hit the ground running this summer.
With United’s pre-season tour beginning early in pre-season Van de Beek would appear a certainty to be involved, but those early days at Carrington and the tour in Bangkok, Melbourne and Perth might be his best chance to show Ten Hag he has a role to play in his Premier League team.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.