2. Matthijs De Ligt
Matthijs De Ligt: An ordinary guy that does extraordinary things.
Before we start, let’s take a look at a list of milestones and honours that 18-year-old Matthijs de Ligt has already achieved:
- Ajax U19 debut at 15
- Player of the tournament – Future Cup (U17) at 15
- Player of the tournament – Copa Amsterdam (U19) at 15
- Young Player of the Year (Ajax) at 16
- Debut in the Jupiler League (Dutch 2nd division) at 16
- First goal in the Jupiler League at 17
- Debut & debut goal for Ajax first team at 17
- Europa League debut at 17
- Europa League Team of the Week at 17
- National team debut at 17
- Guaranteed starter at 17
We could carry on for quite a bit. Truth is, De Ligt is a special talent. He came like a comet, he saw at the highest level, and he conquered, all in his first professional season. De Ligt is that stoic, calm player that will defend with his life.
Born in Leiderdorp, Matthijs spent his childhood in Abcoude, a stone’s throw from Amsterdam. De Ligt is truly an Ajax child; he joined the Amsterdam club’s academy aged 9 – a few years later, he has already found himself in the first team and has already made the footballing world truly acknowledge him. First via social media, second via Europa League.
Peter Bosz (now at Borussia Dortmund) truly took to Matthijs. At 16, De Ligt was already allowed to join the first team’s training camp where he manifested himself quickly, soon becoming part of the first team squad. He managed to play himself into the starting eleven, became a crucial part of Ajax’s defense, and is now, at the age of eighteen, one of Ajax’s best players already. That says a lot about the team and club that Ajax is, but it also tells us a lot about how De Ligt is as a player. Rarely injured, Matthijs is very stable – not only in his game but also his personality. At his age, De Ligt is already quite complete for a defender.
It’s easy to say the above as an Ajax fan and an aficionado of the player that is De Ligt, but others have witnessed and seen how talented he is too. Against FC Copenhagen, he faced Andreas Cornelius – a tall, strong Danish striker who now plays for Atalanta – who he reduced to a small, uninfluential player. In the first leg of the Europa semi-final, a 4-1 romp versus Lyon, he controlled and showed a level of maturity beyond his years, in an action that went viral. Alexandre Lacazette (now at Arsenal) chased down a long ball – but Matthijs cooly put his body between the aforementioned and the ball, shielding and forcing it out of play, as the Frenchman looked on in frustration. De Ligt – then 17 – dismissed Lacazette after the action, quickly waving him off.
Sure, go ahead Matthijs. How a teenager, facing a consistent 20+ goal-a-season striker who would go onto break Arsenal’s transfer record in a few months, decides to have a masterclass in defending on the centre stage in Europe, where millions of people are watching… It’s actually absurd. Sick. Unbelievable. Fantastic. It makes you wonder – certainly, at the moment of writing this – how I’m 3, nearly 4 years older than this guy.
De Ligt is an ordinary guy that does extraordinary things. This must be understood by everyone.
Some Dutch analysts state that De Ligt isn’t too quick, but is a lot quicker than you’d expect him to be. He is equally adept on his left as he is on his right, and has the quality to pass well both at short and long distances. He is great at one-vs-one defending, incredibly robust, and is already quite faultless with his defensive positioning. He is valuable to his team in both attacking and defensive situations.
What does he have to do better, you’re thinking? Everything. Everything must improve, everything must become better. In his academy days, De Ligt, then bigger than most players on the pitch, was a midfielder. The speed in thought that you learn in midfield comes incredibly handy as a ball-playing defender. This is clear with De Ligt – who is a typical product of the new way of training Ajax introduced a few years ago.
De Ligt has heavily focused on individual development and performances, which has sped up his development into a reliable senior footballer. Now, the performance training at Ajax has decreased quantitatively but above all, qualitatively. You see the little weaknesses of players more often. With De Ligt for example, you can see he is not as confident or as smooth when he dribbles into the midfield, or when defending one-vs-one, as he was last season. These are the things De Ligt must improve on in order to do his world class talent justice.
To close out this impassioned love letter, De Ligt is one of the few that came, saw, and conquered. Someone who in no time, popped up to become a public favourite in only his debut season. Now, it’s important for him to stay where he is and reach as far as he can at Ajax. De Ligt has a great grasp of all facets of the game – this is clear. But, he is also very young, and technically still a U19-junior. The entourage that pressure him – club, family, outside pressures, media – must not forget that patience is required with Matthijs. If all goes well, the Netherlands could finally have a new Frank de Boer or Jaap Stam on their hands in the near future – or actually, a combination of them, and his name is Matthijs de Ligt.
By: Sjors van Veen/@SjorsvanVeen
Translated by: Thomas Anderson/@andoculture