Netherlands resume their World Cup qualification campaign away in Latvia on Friday with one glaring omission from Louis van Gaal’s 26-man squad.
As his team-mates jet off around the globe on international duty, Donny van de Beek remains at Manchester United’s Carrington training complex having seen his desperate struggle for game-time at club level transfer to his country.
International call-ups have often provided Van de Beek refuge from his troublesome start to life at Old Trafford but, having been robbed of a place at Euro 2020 through injury, this latest snub means he hasn’t featured for his country since scoring in March’s 7-0 thrashing of Gibraltar.
Van Gaal’s omission comes amid a backdrop of routine overlooking at club level, with Van de Beek featuring in just three of United’s 10 matches in all competition this season and facing intense competition for places following the returns of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jesse Lingard.
His two starts have come in somewhat makeshift line-ups and have coincided with two of United’s three defeats this season, against Young Boys in the Champions League and West Ham in the Carabao Cup.
Players are rightfully given time to adjust to new surroundings but, in the case of Van de Beek, that grace period is coming to an end, if it hasn’t already, and player, manager, and club appear are at a loss where to turn next.
But for the exception of a goal on his Premier League debut – which was overshadowed by defeat to Crystal Palace in United’s first game of the 2020/21 season – and the odd glimmer of potential, Van de Beek’s transfer is one which promised so much but continues to deliver so little.
‘If I’m not needed, Solskjaer will let me go’
In many eyes Van de Beek was the standout player in the famous Ajax squad which lit up the Champions League on route to the semi-finals in 2018/19 but, having been a crucial component in Erik ten Hag’s side, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not afforded him the same luxury.
In early September, Van de Beek broke his silence on his unsuccessful adaptation to life in Manchester and took the opportunity to reaffirm his faith in his manager.
“I need to trust him,” the Dutchman told Rio Ferdinand’s Vibe with Five podcast. “If he doesn’t need me, I think he will let me go. I think he has plans for me, I just need to work hard, and hope one day I can show the people what I can do.
“You can never promise a player if he will play or not, but I agree that I have to play more. You can train hard every day but, in the end, you need game time to show your best shape. If you play once in a month you can’t show your best.”
Van de Beek’s three appearances for United this season followed in the subsequent weeks but his failure to leave a lasting impression, or Solskjaer’s inability to get a tune out of the player, spelled the beginning of more time on the sidelines.
Van de Beek’s visible frustration
To his credit Van de Beek has kept his counsel, trusting in the process – publicly, at least – of bedding in at Manchester United, but his reaction to not being brought off the bench in last week’s Champions League victory over Villarreal when United needed a goal would suggest his frustrations are on the brink of boiling over.
Confirmation that Fred and Lingard would be brought on as United’s final two substitutions prompted Van de Beek to bring him warm-up on the touchline to an abrupt halt as he stormed back to the dugout and tried to remove his bib in a visible fit of rage.
Once seated, Van de Beek’s team-mates tried to calm him down but were helpless as he threw his chewing gum in the direction of Solskjaer and assistant Mike Phelan. A petulant outburst, perhaps, but also a sign of a player very much at the end of his tether.
Solskjaer did his best to nip the potential media storm in the bud in a press conference a few days later but not even the Norwegian’s charm could defuse to public display of discontent, and neither was he able to offer anything new on how he plans to help Van de Beek turn the corner.
Are Donny’s days at Old Trafford numbered?
Perhaps more concerningly for Manchester United is that while a solution to Van de Beek’s struggles is not forthcoming, the player’s camp are actively pursuing a route out of Old Trafford.
Van de Beek’s agent has made no secret of his desire to secure a new challenge for his client. A summer move to Everton was sounded out and settled on, only for Solskjaer to veto the transfer, as representative Guido Albers explained in a recent interview with Ziggo Sport.
“We had conversations with Solskjaer and the board. We took the initiative to find a club and our search ended up at Everton.”
The revelations have since been seconded by director of football at Goodison Park, Marcel Brands, who told NOS: “We had him [Van de Beek] on our list. At the beginning of the transfer window, we inquired at United, then it was impossible.
“At the end of the window, I received a call from Guido Albers, his agent, that he might be rented out after all. But at the last minute it was cancelled, stopped again.”
Despite Solskjaer’s apparent perseverance and Van de Beek’s public show of faith, it would appear that both parties are on different pages, wheels are in motion for a potential exit and an inevitable realisation tinged with regret looks on the horizon.
Having beaten off competition from Real Madrid for Van de Beek’s signature, United have failed to really utilise his undoubted talent, while the player, having left his boyhood Ajax for one of probably two clubs in Europe, has fallen way short of justifying his £39m price tag.
Van de Beek isn’t the only former Ajax player to endure testing times having moved onto pastures new, as Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong and Juventus’ Matthijs de Ligt at Juventus will attest, but while others have been caught up in events engulfing their new clubs off the field, Van de Beek’s issue is that he barely been on the pitch.
Solskjaer has got the majority of his signings since taking the helm at Old Trafford right but the transfer of Van de Beek looks increasingly like a case of the right player at the wrong time.