Soon to be one of the greatest names in European football – Matthijs de Ligt is set to captain Ajax as a 19-year-old in only his third campaign as a senior player.

  • by Michael Statham
  • Follow Michael on Twitter @EredivisieMike

A shoe-in for our Top 50 U21s for this Eredivisie season, hopefully de Ligt remains with Ajax for at least another season. His rapid development will receive no harm with another year or two in the Netherlands to fight for titles and play European football.

The centre-back had been in the Ajax youth academy since he was only nine-years-old, looking up to the likes of Luis Suarez as heroes.

Fast forward eight years and de Ligt became one of the latest products to play for Ajax’s first team. Primarily, as with all Ajax youth talents, they play for Jong Ajax in the Dutch second tier. De Ligt did just that, in August 2016 against FC Emmen.

Merely a month later and de Ligt found himself making his senior debut in a 5-0 Dutch Cup win over Willem II – where he became the 2nd youngest ever goal-scorer for Ajax behind Clarence Seedorf after scoring from a corner.

A crazy season for the youngster had only just begun though – no, really! 17 appearances with Jong Ajax in 2016/17 was followed by a couple of Eredivisie starts with the Ajax first team. That’s all it took for then-manager of the Netherlands Danny Blind to select de Ligt to the Dutch national team squad and even start the teenager in a crucial World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria. The Dutch lost 2-0 following big mistakes from de Ligt and he was substituted at half-time. A baptism of fire from Blind, but a reckless decision which turned out to be a fatal blow to the Netherlands’ World Cup 2018 hopes and Blind’s future as a manager.

But there’s more…later that season, Ajax reached the Europa League final to face Manchester United. De Ligt started in a 2-0 defeat that night. Nevertheless, a fine run of form from de Ligt saw him named in the Europa League squad of the season, in a campaign where he ‘only’ featured 23 times for the Ajax senior squad. Already a star-in-the-making.

In 2017/18, de Ligt was a mainstay in an Ajax defence that finished second in the Eredivisie. A lot less to comment on in terms of the defender’s performances, as they were often faultless. A marvellous year of consolidation in de Ligt’s game which brought him high amounts of confidence – enough to be made Ajax captain for the forthcoming campaign following 37 appearances (and three goals) in all competitions.

De Ligt also made further appearances for the Dutch national team. Now with seven caps, a particular highlight was a world-class performance in a 3-0 friendly win in Portugal. The defender marshalled Christiano Ronaldo all evening to great effect, leaving the now-Juventus forward childishly frustrated.

The centre-back has already won many personal awards for his displays. From the best player at the Future Cup in 2015, to the Dutch Footballer of the Year Bronze Boot award in 2018.

Style of Play

De Ligt is an awesome centre-back who is strong across the board for skills needed for the position. One particular attribute he’s known for is winning last gasp headers from crosses you think he won’t reach. He reads the game excellently to intercept passes and win strong tackles. The defender is a typically-Dutch, confident passer of the ball as well as a threat from set-pieces, even more so now that he is physically more developed.

The teenager is really commanding and courageous for his age. His fortitude also shows in interviews too, where he is confident to tell the media what was positive or negative about a performance and how he will reach the next steps in his future.

What to expect from de Ligt this season

Let’s see first whether or not de Ligt plays the season in Amsterdam – some may be reading this article looking to find out more about their new signing! Should he stay, Ajax fans should expect more of the same with further confidence to de Ligt’s game. He will start every match if fit and will hope to captain Ajax to their first Eredivisie title in 5 years.

On an international stage, de Ligt should expect to earn more caps and by the end of the campaign he will hope to cement a first-choice centre-back place next to Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk. The partnership could then carry through to Euro 2020.

Michael Statham (812 Posts)

Writer/interviewer/YouTuber for Football-Oranje. Massive Dutch football fan from the UK. Follow me @EredivisieMike & subscribe to Football-Oranje on YouTube.