Barcelona have told Frenkie de Jong they want to annul his existing contract and return to the deal he was on before, alleging the terms given to him by the club’s previous board involved criminality and provide grounds for legal action against those involved, The Athletic reporter Ornstein can reveal.
The Catalan side have serious financial problems and among the ways they are trying to improve matters is by selling De Jong or reaching an agreement with him over deferred wages he is owed.
There has so far been no sign of a compromise between the 25-year-old Netherlands midfielder and his employers in what is becoming one of the most extraordinary sagas the game has seen.
Manchester United had a bid for De Jong accepted, as reported on July 14, but issues with the player — the outstanding money owed and whether he wants a move to United — remained unresolved.
According to sources in Spain, Barcelona wrote to De Jong on July 15 claiming to have found evidence of criminal actions on behalf of the parties who signed his renewal on October 20, 2020.
It was a two-year extension until 2026 that is reported to have reduced his salary for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, leaving €18million (£15.2m, $18.3m) to be spread across the subsequent four campaigns.
De Jong’s deal was announced alongside three others — Gerard Pique, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Clement Lenglet — and this proved to be one of the final decisions by then president Josep Bartomeu prior to he and the entire board of directors at the time stepping down from their posts.
The letter sent to De Jong last month is thought to inform the Dutchman that Barcelona think they are in a position to initiate criminal proceedings to establish what happened in relation to the signing of his contract and ascertain where responsibility resides for the supposed wrongdoing.
It is believed to then express Barcelona’s wish to rescind the deal and proceed with De Jong’s career at the Camp Nou under the conditions agreed when he arrived from Ajax in January 2019.
The Athletic understands the previous board are confident in the legality of the contract De Jong signed in 2020 and insist the deal was agreed after approval from legal parties and La Liga. In an interview with the Barcelona newspaper Mundo Deportivo last year, former president Bartomeu insisted the previous board’s management of the club was “serious and responsible”.
Sources around the Catalan club suggest there has been further dialogue between Barcelona and De Jong’s camp, in which the present board have identified their predecessors for the alleged criminality and warned that De Jong and his representatives may also be implicated.
That could be perceived to reinforce comments by Evgeniy Levchenko — chairman of the Dutch players’ union — that De Jong might be a victim of extortion, a notion current Barcelona president Joan Laporta denies. Global players’ union FIFPRO is known to be closely monitoring the situation and Barcelona’s attempts to try to make the player accept a vastly reduced sum from the €18m he agreed to defer during the pandemic.
Barcelona are engaged in similar conversations with Pique and Ter Stegen (Lenglet is on loan at Tottenham Hotspur) but it is unknown if they have also received communication of a legal nature.
De Jong’s preference is to stay with the 26-time La Liga champions but if a departure does end up materialising, he is said not to have made a decision so far on the team he would like to join.
Chelsea have a firm interest and while it is understood they are yet to submit a formal bid, sources indicate they are prepared to fund the transfer fee and cover the salary debt should De Jong pick a switch to Stamford Bridge. They have an advantage over United in playing Champions League football this season, although it is thought that alone will not determine his potential destination.
Despite their predicament, Barcelona have recruited heavily this summer; Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen, Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski and Jules Kounde are the most notable acquisitions. Barcelona declined to comment and HCM Sports Management, who look after De Jong, were approached for comment.