Frenkie de Jong next? The 8 players to play for Manchester United & Ajax

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Jaap Stam playing for Manchester United in the Champions League, Manchester, Old Trafford, 12 August 1998.

Manchester United and Ajax are two of the biggest clubs in the history of football, but only a handful of players have ever played for both. Frenkie de Jong could become the next if transfer rumours are to be believed.

New United boss Erik ten Hag wants his former player reunited with him for his first Premier League season, and if he does come he would join an elite list of names.

While some had more success with one than the other, a small number lifted the biggest trophies with both. There are also those that failed to appear for both, despite being on the books at both the English and Dutch clubs.

Those include Johan Cruyff’s son Jordi as well as Timothy Fosu-Mensah, both of whom made senior appearances for United but left Ajax at a young age. They are joined by other youth players like Dillion Hoogewerf, Millen Baars and Gyliano van Velzen who all joined United’s youth set-up from Ajax but who all failed to appear for either side.

So who are the eight that De Jong could follow to have made senior appearances for Manchester United and Ajax? Here they are, along with how they fared at both clubs.

Frank Stapleton

A legendary Irish figure, Stapleton made over 200 league appearances at Arsenal in the 70s before doing the same at Manchester United in the 80s.

But in 1987, with Sir Alex Ferguson conducting a clear-out at Old Trafford, Johan Cruyff picked up the forward for nothing.

“When I met him [Cruyff] he was was down-to-earth and normal as a person, even though we know how great he was as a player, and he knew it too!” Stapleton later said of the legendary Dutch figure.

“I found him very approachable as a manager… he joined in training at times. If we played a possession game, he’d never give it away. It made you think how good it must’ve been to play with him at his peak.”

Whilst it wasn’t a particularly successful move for either party, poetically Stapleton’s one Ajax goal was scored in Ireland against Dundalk in the Cup Winner’s Cup.

Arnold Muhren

Muhren was the man who had encouraged Cruyff to sign Stapleton, the Dutchman having played with the forward at Old Trafford under Ron Atkinson between 1982 and 1985 where he won the FA Cup.

Prior to that he had won the UEFA Cup with Ipswich where he had been for four years, rejoining Ajax at the end of his England experience when he left Old Trafford.

But it was his first stint at Ajax that made his name, twice winning the Eredivisie along with the European Cup in 1973. In fact, along with Danny Blind, he is one of only two Dutch players to have won every European competition (excluding the Conference League, but come on now).

Jesper Olsen

The first player to move directly between the two clubs, Olsen joined United from Ajax in 1984 for about £350,000- a small footballing fortune at that point.

Signed as part of Atkinson’s push for a league title, Olsen showed quality at United but was unable to help them bridge the gap to becoming league champions for the first time since Sir Matt Busby.

He was eventually moved on by Ferguson in 1988, a solitary FA Cup in his first season to show for his stint in England.

Jaap Stam

If you go to the North West of England and ask a random person on the street if Virgil van Dijk is the best Dutch centre-back in Premier League history is, they will say either agree with you or laugh in your face and say simply one name by way of reply; Stam.

‘Yip Jaap Stam’, who as the song will remind you is a “big Dutch man”, is one of the hardest men to ever play the game, and one of Manchester United’s greatest ever centre-backs.

That’s despite the fact he only played for the club for three seasons, but what seasons they were. He won the league three times in a row, and without him the treble in 1999 simply would have never occurred.

Despite being a PSV player prior to Old Trafford, he finished his career with a season at Ajax where he got his hands on the Dutch Cup again.

Edwin van der Sar

A John Terry slip in the rain, Van der Sar diving to save Anelka’s penalty and his big hands rising to the air in celebration; the 21 May 2008 is a special memory to all United fans, and that’s largely thanks to perhaps the greatest Dutch goalkeeper of all time.

For good reason, he is also beloved in Amsterdam. It’s not just his much-celebrated modern-day work as CEO which means he is popular at Ajax, but as a player for nine years from 1990 to 1999 he was a stalwart in between the sticks, helping them to the 1995 Champions League title under Louis Van Gaal.

He had the choice between Old Trafford and Juventus when he left Ajax in 1999, opting for the Old Lady, but just imagine what Ferguson would have done if he had joined him earlier…

READ: Ranking Man Utd’s 23 Premier League keepers from worst to best

Daley Blind

If you told someone who knew absolutely nothing about football that Blind was seven times a Dutch champion, how many English titles do you think they would guess he had won at United? Five? Three? Surely one?

The answer, of course, is absolutely none. Arriving from Ajax, he played at United during the bizarre Van Gaal era but also turned out in the last season United won any trophies, even starting against Ajax in the Europa League final in 2017.

But that was never going to stop him from being appreciated in the Dutch capital. Son of Danny Blind, one of Ajax’s most legendary players, Blind Jr. returned in 2018 and has rarely been out of the team since.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Before becoming ‘the Lion’, a young, confident Ibrahimovic plied his trade at Ajax to prove himself to Europe’s elite.

There he scored goals so ridiculous, so mesmerising that a move to a ‘bigger’ league became inevitable, eventually departing on his European adventures in 2004 for Juventus.

At Manchester United, he led us to believe had played out the twilight of his European career by firing them to the League Cup and Europa League… but then he came back and defied medical science to help AC Milan return to the summit of Italian football.

He’s some player. Almost as good as he tells you he is.

Donny van de Beek

Van de Beek’s transfer to United has been a failure and an indictment of their transfer strategy (or lack thereof).

But sensational in Ten Hag’s Ajax side, he has been given a golden opportunity to shine under his former manager once again at Old Trafford. Plus, if United do get De Jong, it will see him reunited with a midfield partner he know all too well.


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