Manchester United career, World Cup on line for Van de Beek

In October 2018, the only 21-year-old Donny van de Beek started for Ajax against FC Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena. By the end of that season he had scored 17 goals in midfield, including one in the Champions League semifinals at Tottenham Hotspur.

A few weeks later he played against England and Portugal as the Netherlands finished runners-up in the Nations League and by 2020 he had earned a €45m transfer to Manchester United.

But rather than taking the next step in a career that had been growing from success to success up to that point, his move to Old Trafford sparked a decline so severe that head coach Louis van Gaal won his Netherlands squad for the 2022 World Cup, no questions asked , why Van de Beek is not there.

The midfielder was told by Van Gaal he needed to ‘start playing’ after being left out of the national squad more than a year ago. Now that he’s injured and out of favour, there’s little chance of that happening before next month’s tournament in Qatar begins.

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It has reached the point where Van de Beek has been written off by most United fans as yet another bad signing. In the summer there was hope that the appointment of his former manager at Ajax, Erik ten Hag, could boost his Manchester career. But Van de Beek has found opportunities under the new United boss just as hard as he did under predecessors Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick. He has played 19 minutes of football so far this season and last week Ten Hag said the 25-year-old would need to impress in training before being considered for a spot in the team.

“He had a muscle injury,” said Ten Hag after the Europa League win over Omonia Nicosia. “So it’s going to take a few weeks. He’s back on the training pitch now so he’s doing his job outside but he’s still individual, he’s not returning to team training. So we have to wait for that moment.”

Van de Beek has gotten used to waiting. After joining United from Ajax, it took Solskjaer more than two months to entrust him with a Premier League start in a 3-2 win at Southampton. He was selected for the next league game against West Ham but after being substituted at half-time at the London Stadium he had to wait until May to start another Premier League game against Leicester at Old Trafford.

Solskjaer’s treatment of a player who was on the 30-man Ballon d’Or shortlist in 2019 raised questions about whether the Norwegian was ever interested in having him at the club in the first place. Van de Beek was signed at a time when United were under pressure from a lack of ambition in the transfer market and they were able to quickly secure a deal after a planned move to Real Madrid fell through.

A well-loved member of the squad, his lack of playing time confused some of his teammates, who regularly singled him out on their social media posts whenever he made a significant contribution in practice or a game.

A loan move to Everton in January was cut short by a hamstring injury but Ten Hag’s summer appointment to United was seen as a fresh start with a manager who had brought the best out of him at Ajax. Ten Hag initially said he was looking forward to working with his former player, but it wasn’t long before he issued a warning.

“I as a manager and the coaching staff around him can do anything to create the right conditions for his performance, but in the end it’s up to the player to do it himself,” he said during United’s pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia. “It’s the same for every player, he has to do it on his own. They have to take responsibility for their performance. Donny has the ability. I saw it, but he has to prove himself.”

Ten Hag insists “opportunities will come” during a hectic four-competition season, but it is increasingly likely Van de Beek will need to leave the club in either January or next summer to get his career back on track.

Sources have told ESPN that Leicester City are one of the prospects but Van de Beek has a contract at Old Trafford until 2025 with an option for a further year and United would want some sort of return on the €45m they only have two have paid years earlier.

Still only 25 years old there is still time to prove he can be the same player who busted out at Ajax. But his chances of playing at the World Cup are already out of time and the clock is ticking on his future at United. Manchester United career, World Cup on line for Van de Beek

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