Why Newcastle's new Mr. Versatile can ease Toon woes (now they've signed the right brother)
After seven years in Ajax's first team, Siem de Jong has chosen the right time to move on from the Eredivisie, having joined Newcastle.
The attacking midfielder has shown himself to be a talented, intelligent and mature player who can become a key member of Alan Pardew’s team.
During his time in Amsterdam, De Jong developed into a very versatile midfielder. His technique and his first touch are, as is usual for Eredivisie stars, very good. He also possesses a quick brain, good passing ability and is also capable of finding the net.
His move from the Netherlands comes much later than promising players tend to make, but all it means is that he is much better prepared.
As Ajax stormed to win four consecutive Eredivisie titles under Frank de Boer for the first time in their history, De Jong was a crucial part of the team and played various roles throughout. De Boer, an excellent, demanding and tactically-astute coach, bestowed a great deal of responsibility to De Jong as one of his more senior players.
De Boer's boy
The Swiss-born attacking midfielder joined Ajax's academy aged 16. When he was given his chance in the senior side two years later by Henk ten Cate, the prodigious youngster scored minutes into his league debut against Sparta Rotterdam to secure his team a point. He featured 22 times in his debut campaign, but only half as many in the next after falling out of favour under Marco van Basten.
When Martin Jol took over the following summer, De Jong was eased back into an exciting team alongside the likes of Luis Suarez, Jan Vertonghen, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Gregory van der Wiel and Vurnon Anita.
However, it was De Boer’s appointment as Ajax head coach which saw the son of two international volleyball players really kick on. Playing a more advanced role he became much more clinical, scoring and setting up goals regularly as the Amsterdam giants lost only one of their final 14 games of the season to win their first league title in seven years.
From then on, things only improved. Unsurprisingly, he became De Boer’s captain and the embodiment of his coach on the field.
Ajax have seen plenty of star players leave without significant reinvestment over the last four seasons, only to bounce back each time and lift another league title. A huge part of their ability to recover each time was De Jong – the only constantly vital component of the squad in this period.
When Vertonghen left the Amsterdam ArenA to join Tottenham, De Jong was the one who took over as captain to deliver the messages and passion of De Boer. When striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson was out injured, De Jong became the focal point of the attack.
When Anita joined Newcastle, De Jong was the player who worked hardest tying the midfield and attack together. And when Christian Eriksen fled to London, De Jong was the one forced to take over the string-pulling ahead of Christian Poulsen and Thulani Serero.
Man for all occasions
For the second half of last season, Sigthorsson, a dedicated No.9, was moved to the left wing to allow De Jong to become Ajax's first choice centre-forward. Ultimately, it was a decision which helped turn Ajax's miserable season around. They went from being a horrendous, slow and failing team to spending 16 uninterrupted weeks at the top of the table and coming painstakingly close to qualifying for the second round of the Champions League.
De Jong's mental strength and positive mindset has earned him a place in the history books of the Netherlands' biggest club. His departure is a sad one for Ajax’s coach, players and fans, but it is one that has been expected for some time.
He's not perfect – while he has great stamina, the speed and physicality of English football could prove a stumbling block – but on balance, the 25-year-old Netherlands international should prove an excellent acquisition for Newcastle.
His younger brother Luuk joined Borussia Monchengladbach in 2012, but has since failed to live up to expectations and also failed to impress on loan at St James' Park. Siem, however, is a more experienced and assured player who has the potential to slot into the Magpies’ side and thrive in front of his former Ajax partner Anita.