95’36. Adama Traore receives the ball on the right side of the Espanyol half and sizes up a cross. There are only two Barcelona jerseys as compared to the opposition’s four. Luuk De Jong rises heroically from the midst of three Espanyol players and caresses the ball home with the side of his head. 2-2, and the final whistle soon follows.
De Jong had been on the field for but 8 minutes prior to the goal. The Dutchman had just 3 touches, an unsuccessful pass, an unsuccessful shot, and a game-saving goal.
Criticisms seemed well-placed after De Jong’s first 12 games at the club. The 31-year-old had garnered a solitary goal from a string of tepid performances. Fans felt that the €1 million fee to secure the loan was too high a price.
The Dutchman, however, continued to work relentlessly. And the efforts began to translate into goals. De Jong turned his form around with 3 crucial goals in 3 consecutive games: Mallorca, Granada, and Real Madrid. And the opinion turned too, and fans came to a general understanding: Luuk de Jong is a useful impact striker.
Why has Luuk De Jong been so important To FC Barcelona?
The praise came in louder, following crucial late goals against Espanyol and Levante. And none more treasurable than from his own manager Xavi.
"“Luuk de Jong is an example and I say that in front of the whole squad,”“He’s a top professional. He’s a goal scorer and that’s why we brought him on. He’s had two chances and then scored another one.”"
De Jong has conducted himself through applause as he did through the condemnations: focused, balanced, humble, and non-complaining. His induction into the club was grounded in uncertainty. The former PSV hitman was signed in the dying hours of deadline day, shortly after Griezmann was allowed to depart. Signed on a loan deal, Barcelona retain the option to make the transfer permanent. Reports on whether the club will actually extend the 31-year-old or allow him to leave are conflicting. Links to Robert Lewandowski and Alvaro Morata also cast a shadow on the Dutchman’s future in a Blaugrana jersey.
Luuk De Jong represents a profile Barcelona have sorely lacked for a long time. He can rarely be seen dropping between the lines to receive the ball. He seldom takes on a defender with the ball at his feet. His area of influence does not extend much further than the opposition penalty box. When we look at the numbers, De Jong has no assists this season. His touches are largely concentrated in the attacking third of the field. He averages under 20 passes every 90 minutes and has created just 3 shots.
De Jong’s poacher instincts, however, are unmatched. Almost 9% of all his touches are shots. And almost 1 in every 4 shots results in a goal. The former Sevilla hitman offers predator skills that few others within the club possess.
His skill set is one that perhaps does not have a natural place under Xavi. The Spaniard implements an intricate demonstration in possession, with a high level of positional fluidity. Having to sacrifice an outfielder in build-up would hinder Barcelona’s system to a marked extent.
Instead, De Jong’s skill set is more of a bonus. You can’t always chisel spaces around the opposition defence. Sometimes you need a fine hammer to bludgeon through. And Luuk De Jong is Xavi’s hammer.
On more than one occasion, Barcelona have found themselves dominant but not punishing. The Blaugranes control possession and force the opposition to retreat into the depths of their own box. However, the Catalans find themselves inches short of applying the finishing touches. It is here that Luuk De Jong offers the directness to convert possession into chances and chances into goals. By combining a towering figure and imposing physique with immaculate positioning, Luuk De Jong offers Barcelona the option of heaving the ball into the box, promising he will somehow manage to turn it goal-wards.
And best of all, the Dutchman isn’t eating a hole in the club’s wage bill. As per reports, De Jong earns significantly lesser than most first-team players. Barcelona have a perfect squad player in the 31-year-old. Happy to contribute to the team as required, hardworking, professional, and an extremely useful option off the bench. Barcelona are looking at a busy transfer window en route to rebuilding under Xavi’s vision. The club is expected to make investments to shore up the defense and add steel to the midfield. Could the Catalans benefit from retaining De Jong instead of releasing him and creating a new requirement in the transfer window?