Edwin van der Sar wrote an open letter to Manchester United supporters in the Manchester Evening News last year.
Van der Sar has been the CEO of Ajax since 2016 and he played a key role in the negotiations that saw Donny van de Beek sign for the Reds for £40m last September when the midfielder was still widely regarded as one of Europe’s most exciting prospects.
“Dear Manchester United fans,” Van der Sar wrote.
“It seems our paths have crossed again. One of ours is joining you this season. And like so many players before him, he’s been with us since he was just a little boy. Shortly after his debut, he became one of our best.
Especially the last couple of years were amazing. From the Europa League final (no hard feelings) to our Champions League run and winning the Dutch championship.
“Like you, we pride ourselves on being one of the best at developing talent and giving young players a shot at the highest level. You could say your new star is the embodiment of that pride. That’s one of the many reasons we don’t like to see him leave, but we understand it’s time for him to move on. To dream on. And where better to do so than in your theatre. Trust me, I know.
“Please take good care of our Donny, and help him dream. Enjoy the future.”
With the benefit of hindsight, Van der Sar’s trust in United to ‘take good care’ of Van de Beek couldn’t have been more misplaced and there certainly hasn’t been any dreaming for the 24-year-old since his move. You just can’t dream when you’re in a nightmare.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s handling of Van de Beek has dominated bulletins since his arrival and for good reason. The Dutchman looked technically exceptional – another product of Johan Cruyff’s legacy – during Ajax’s memorable 2018/19 Champions League campaign and the £40m that United paid seemed a genuine coup. What is the point in owning a Rolls Royce to keep it in the garage, though?
The match-going fans in Old Trafford have refused to turn on Solskjaer, however, their chanting of Van de Beek’s name in the Manchester derby was discreetly mutinous and telling. Van de Beek has been handed just 154 minutes this season and Solskjaer’s clear distrust in the player when certain individuals continue to deliver turgid performances is a source of great bemusement.
United’s displays this season suggest that they have deep-rooted problems under Solskjaer, but the Norwegian has consistently ignored a potential solution to his side’s midfield inadequacies by refusing to give Van de Beek any serious opportunities.
While it was understandable that Solskjaer opted to play Fred and Scott McTominay in midfield in the intended risk-averse 5-3-2 formation, that system is not justifiable against ‘weaker’ opposition, like against Watford on Saturday, for example.
United have failed to look after Van de Beek as Van der Sar and Ajax would have hoped, but the situation is not beyond saving.
Van de Beek’s patience and willingness to fight for his place has been admirable – especially in the modern-day game – and, with Solskjaer now with nothing to lose, that needs to be rewarded, beginning with a place in the starting XI this weekend.
There was a reason that Ajax were so bereft at Van de Beek’s departure.
It’s Solskjaer responsibility to allow United fans to see it.