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Manchester United have suffered a setback in their pursuit of Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong, with the midfielder telling ESPN he would prefer to stay at Camp Nou.

New United manager Erik ten Hag is keen on landing the Netherlands international as part of his Old Trafford rebuild, with the pair enjoying success during their time at Ajax together. However, De Jong has said he is eager to fight for his place with the Spanish giants.

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“I prefer to stay with Barcelona,” De Jong told ESPN Netherlands’ Pascal Kamperman on Tuesday.

“Barcelona is just my dream club. Also from a young age. I just said it too. I’ve never regretted my choice despite the fact that I had hoped for more in terms of prizes than I’ve achieved so far. But I have never regretted my choice.”

De Jong won the Dutch title and reached the Champions League semifinals under Ten Hag at Ajax before moving to Barca in 2019, but he has endured a difficult early spell at the club. Barca finished a distant second in this season’s LaLiga behind bitter rivals Real Madrid, who also won the Champions League, while Xavi’s side lost to Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarterfinals of the Europa League.

Sources have told ESPN that Ten Hag wants to test Barca’s resolve this summer with a bid for De Jong, despite his desire to remain at Camp Nou.

Barca may yet offload De Jong as the club continue to suffer from financial difficulties. Their spending limit has been reduced to minus-€144 million by LaLiga — it is the only negative cap in the league — and they can only spend 25% of any savings on wages or transfer fees until they are operating within their limit.

De Jong, who is valued at around €75 million, is one of Barca’s most expensive assets, but the 26-year-old has said there has been no contact with Ten Hag or United.

He added: “What I’m saying, there is absolutely nothing of an agreement or anything official. At the moment there is no question of it at all.

“Not that I know of in any case. Or they must not have told me, but I don’t think so.”

Meanwhile, United have appointed Andy O’Boyle as their new deputy football director. O’Boyle previously served as head of elite performance.

“I am thrilled to be rejoining Manchester United at such an exciting time for the club, as the first team prepares for a fresh start under Erik ten Hag, and the Academy and women’s teams go from strength to strength,” O’Boyle said in a statement.

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