Ter Stegen: I want Man United target De Jong to stay at Barca forever

How Barcelona are winning despite lack of goals (1:27)

Alejandro Moreno reacts to Barcelona's 1-0 win over Villarreal to put them 11 points ahead in the LaLiga table. (1:27)

Marc-Andre ter Stegen wants Frenkie de Jong to stay at Barcelona forever as the Dutch midfielder prepares to face Manchester United -- the club that tried so hard to sign him last year -- in the Europa League on Thursday.

De Jong was the subject of talks between Barca and United last summer and started the season out of Xavi Hernandez's preferred side, but has won his place back with a string of impressive performances.

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Ter Stegen says De Jong is the perfect role model for youngsters Pedri and Gavi and joked he would tie him down if that is what it takes to keep him at Camp Nou beyond the current campaign.

"He brings a lot to the team," Ter Stegen said of De Jong, who is in his fourth season at Barca.

"I have a super high opinion of him, but I also expect a lot from him because he has so much talent. He sees and feels football in a different way. He is someone that players like Gavi and Pedri, for example, can look up to.

"I was hoping he would stay because, in the end, this is the type of player I want in my team. Of course, there were many rumours and discussions and whatever, but I am just happy he is here. I don't want him to leave.

"I think one day I will put him something here [gestures tying him down] to just keep him here always, forever, and I hope he will be here for [a] long [time]."

Barca's switch to a midfield four has helped get the best out of De Jong since the World Cup. It has also benefitted Pedri and Gavi -- who aged 20 and 18, respectively, were among the nominees for the FIFPro XI this week -- but Ter Stegen says the youngsters should not rest on their laurels.

"It's not just about playing good or bad, what I want is that they see there is always space to improve," the German international advised.

"Even though people don't see it, there are situations in which you can get better. They are working individually with videos and this is what I want because, in the end, it doesn't matter if you are 30 or 18, you want to get better and progress in what you do.

"I don't want them to be relaxed about what they're achieving -- which is crazy and I am really happy for them. But, of course, they have a responsibility at this young age for the team and for themselves that they take care, that they sleep well... these are the little details. And I admit, it feels like they are in this business for a long time."

He is especially complimentary of Gavi, who he says is "as aggressive in training as in matches."

"He doesn't care if the guy next to him is two metres tall, he fights for every ball, which is nice to see," he added. "This is what we need and this is why he is very different from the player types we had before. This is why he is very, very important for the team and for the group.

"It's also probably a bit about his mentality. He didn't worry a lot [when promoted to the senior side] and this is actually what makes him really, really strong because he doesn't think about the consequences, which is nice. This is what we needed."

Ter Stegen, 30, was recently appointed as the fourth captain and, speaking about Pedri and Gavi, you can tell he is now one of the leaders of this Barca side having arrived as a youngster nine years ago in 2014.

He says the retirement of Gerard Pique in November has forced others to step up, citing Ronald Araujo and Robert Lewandowski as others filling the leadership void.

"[With] Pique's farewell, we had to have players stepping up to fill the gap, which is really difficult because he left quite a big space in the locker room and also on the field as a captain," Ter Stegen said.

"[Araujo is] one of these players that has [had] to step up to fill the gap. It's him but it is also Lewandowski, who just arrived but there is an expectation that he is there. He did great [with the language] right from the start. Now he is able to talk to the younger players and, of course, if Lewandowski talks to you as a younger player, you will listen. You should listen!"

Lewandowski's goals have helped Barca open up an 11-point lead over Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga, but Ter Stegen has also played his part. He has kept 16 clean sheets in 21 league games, conceding just seven goals, and credits his form to an extended break last summer.

He sought permission from Germany coach Hansi Flick to sit out the UEFA Nations League and believes he is reaping the benefits this season.

"Oh, [that break was] very important," he explained. "I had three years without being able to rest and it has an impact, if it's mentally, physically, in many ways. In the end, I am happy that I had the time and that the coach of the national team and [Barca] understood the situation and supported me to say: 'Hey, look, it's good to have a break sometimes.'

"It was the right decision. I am really happy that I am able to decide at the right moment when to take a break. This is difficult to find."

Ter Stegen and Barca's good form -- they're unbeaten in 16 matches in all competitions -- has also coincided with the appointment of Xavi Hernandez, who won his first trophy as the club's coach last month, beating Real Madrid 3-1 in the Spanish Supercopa final.

That taste of success has Barca wanting more as they prepare to host United at Camp Nou in the first leg of their Europa League knockout round tie on Thursday.

"It's over a year now since Xavi came and many things have changed, probably also the mentality and the way we defend," Ter Stegen stated. "Everything got a different focus. I wouldn't say that before was worse or better, just that focus shifted a bit and right now we are in a good moment defensively.

"This makes us very strong right now. [Xavi] has a plan, maybe it's taken longer than he expected, but you see results step by step. We have a better idea of what to do on the pitch and this is key to success, like winning the Supercopa."