Nigel de Jong

What a huge surprise in the winter transfer window! After having played 46 matches in the Champions League and 81 matches for the national team of the Netherlands in his career, 33-year old defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong has signed a 5-months contract with Mainz 05 a few days ago. With his last four stations being Manchester City, AC Milan, LA Galaxy and Galatasaray, you could not immediately conclude, that he would end up playing for Mainz 05. However, is it really a good signing for the club or has de Jong’s quality decreased as he became older? Let us look at his current Footballelixir rating:
Player Rating Nigel de Jong70ExpectedGoalsExpectedGoalsPassingPassingPossessionControlPossessionControlDefenseDefenseMatchPracticeMatchPractice
Still an above-average player
When you think about Nigel de Jong, you think about defensive plays: Possession gains, fouls, hustle plays and a ton of yellow cards. The graphic above confirms that, his main quality is on the defensive side of the game. Over the last three seasons he averaged impressive numbers of 1.9 successful tacklings, 3.1 interceptions and 1.2 blocks per 90 minutes. His defensive contribution goes along with a decent possession control. Although he is quite often in possession of the ball with about 65 passes per 90 minutes, he loses possession very rarely. His passing itself is solid, de Jong is however not the kind of player that provides you with a lot of key passes due to his defensive positioning on the pitch. Alongside to that comes his little contribution concerning expected goals. The biggest minus right now is his non-existent match practice, he has not played in a competitive match for over a year. If that is going to change and de Jong will achieve more playing time at Mainz, can only be answered, when we take a look at his competitors:

There are three defensive midfielders currently playing for Mainz (Gbamin, Latza and Serdar) who can be compared to de Jong, as well as Fabian Frei, who has just left the club. Let us look at their current player ratings, which are composed without match practice, to draw a comparison between them:
Nigel de JongNigel de JongFabian FreiFabian FreiJean GbaminJean GbaminDanny LatzaDanny LatzaSuat SerdarSuat Serdar6965726870Competitors (minus match practice)
De Jong is likely to play
Looking at this quintet of defensive midfielders, de Jong has the second best overall rating. He outperforms Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Suat Serdar and is slightly better than Fabian Frei, therefore he seems like a good signing to compensate the loss of the former Mainz’ player. Only Danny Latza has a higher rating than de Jong, but he is also a little more offensive minded than the other mentioned players, so it is perfectly imaginable to see both play for Mainz in the central midfield. Going a little more into detail, Nigel de Jong does not have a huge weakness compared to the other four players. He is ranked first in possession control, second in expected goals and third in defensive contribution and passing. Quite interesting is the similarity of his statistics compared to the ones of Fabian Frei. De Jong only has a small advantage in expected goals and possession control, while their defensive contribution and passing have nearly the same values.

De Jong was not always compared to average Bundesliga players, at his former stations he played together with stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wesley Sneijder, Kaká or Sergio Agüero. However, his quality is not the same as it was in his prime. Looking at his development over the last seven seasons, a decrease in quality becomes obvious, if you consider only his statistics reached in the respective season:
7778768078727499908070605010-1111-1212-1313-1414-1515-1616-17Season Rating
You might ask yourself why the chart starts in season 10-11, when de Jong has already played several seasons before in Europe’s top leagues. Well, advanced football data has not been around forever, season 10-11 was actually the first in which you could get all-around quality data. That being said, de Jong showed a very decent consistency level, with his ratings hovering around the 78-point mark from season 10-11 to 14-15. After de Jong switched from Milan to LA Galaxy in season 15-16 though, he was miles away from the consistency level of the former years around a 78-overall rating. This decline was mostly due to his defensive contribution going down by 30% concerning interceptions, tacklings and blocks. Whatever the reason for that was, he showed improved performances in the year after, at Galatasaray his defensive contribution went back to the level of his days at Milan. However, his passing, match practice and his expected goals level went slightly down compared to his stay at AC Milan, therefore his overall rating is still 4 points lower than in season 14-15.

Given the data of the seven seasons, I would conclude that Mainz would be extremely fortunate, if Nigel de Jong turns out to perform in the same way as he has for Manchester City and AC Milan. In my opinion, it is unlikely that we are going to see an overall rating of 78 in the next 5 months at Mainz. Nevertheless, we don’t have to be too pessimistic, his performances in the Major League Soccer look like a statistical outlier and his statistics at Galatasaray showed improvement. If Mainz is providing de Jong with enough playing time, we could see him at a 74 rating again.

The signing of Nigel de Jong by Mainz 05 has the potential to be a winning situation for both sides. The club is provided with a player having a better overall quality than the remaining contenders in the defensive midfield, while de Jong gains the opportunity to shine again in one of Europe’s top 5 leagues. However, we saw in the development chart that de Jong’s ratings decreased over the years and with his last competitive match over the full 90 minutes being 11 months away, it is possible, that his level of contribution has gone down even further. Looking at a non-statistical point of view though, a player who has formerly played together with superstars of international football, should be perfectly capable to provide a middle-class Bundesliga club like Mainz 05 with a bunch of quality minutes. Welcome back to the Bundesliga, Nigel de Jong!