Matthijs de Ligt completed a £67.5m move from Ajax to Juventus on Thursday.
It is a signal of intent from the Italian champions to capture one of Europe’s most sought-after players and an ambitious step up by the 19-year-old Dutch international, who was a product of the Amsterdam club’s prolific academy.
But what are they [Juve] getting for their money, what will De Ligt be hoping for in Turin and how can each ensure that this is the perfect fit between player and club?
Two journalist share their thoughts – one based in the Netherlands and the other based in Italy.
ELKO BORN the Netherlands football journalist had this to say:
It was the second leg of the quarter-final of the 2018-19 Champions League. Ajax were drawing 1-1 with Juventus. In the 67th minute, a corner kick was awarded to Ajax. Towering above every member of Juventus’ team, including the 6ft 3ins Leonardo Bonucci, De Ligt, born in the town of Abcoude in the Netherlands, headed the ball in the back of the net to win the tie.
Only 19 years of age, De Ligt had captained Ajax to their most successful season in years – not only did they reach the semi-final of the Champions League, Ajax also won the Dutch national double.
Making his debut in the 2016-17 season – the year in which Ajax lost in the final of the Europa League against Manchester United – De Ligt immediately made a huge impact on Ajax’s first team.
With his immovable physique, remarkable leadership qualities and goalscoring abilities, the young defender laid the foundation for the transformation that would turn Ajax from a Europa League side into a Champions League contender two seasons later.
‘Sky is the limit for a player of unparalleled capability’
True, Ajax’s youth academy produces quality players on a relatively regular basis, but very rarely have they looked as solid and mature at such a young age as De Ligt. After only a handful of games, his position within the first team hierarchy was established, and Ronald Koeman made him one of the players he would build the renewed Dutch national team around.
Without question, Ajax’s success in the 2018-19 season was in no small part thanks to De Ligt’s unparalleled capabilities.
It soon became apparent he wouldn’t stay at Ajax for long. Like most talented youngsters, he was going to move on to bigger and better things – and most probably sooner rather than later. Now the inevitable has happened. After only two and half seasons, he has left his boyhood club for Juventus.
De Ligt’s agent, Mino Raiola, has moved clients from Ajax to Juventus before, and has probably played an important role in convincing the Italian side to cough up the substantial transfer fee Ajax demanded.
What’s more, it might just be a great fit. Juventus – not to mention the Italian league – has always been a good home to strong defenders, and with players like Leonardo Bonucci not getting any younger, De Ligt will have the opportunity to become a foundational player for many years to come.
It remains to be seen whether he’ll succeed at this. But at the age of 19, De Ligt has already achieved more than some players can dream of in an entire career, so one would almost assume the sky is the limit.
De Ligt has taken on Cristiano Ronaldo and won. Now he’s his new team-mate. His move to Juventus will come with new challenges, but the young defender will not be afraid in the slightest.
MINA RZOUKI the Italian football expert had this to say:
A year ago, Juventus announced their intent to keep challenging for the highest honours when they signed five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. It was the signing no one expected and didn’t quite fit in with the type of deals a fiscally responsible Juventus usually made. Were the Bianconeri spending too much money on an ageing star? Was Italy the right destination for a perennial winner? Journalists continue to question the decision.
However, if Ronaldo to Juve took a few by surprise, De Ligt to Juve makes perfect sense. While Serie A as a league may have fallen behind, it is still the home of great defenders and defensive teachings. The league that once brought us Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini is still home to Kalidou Koulibaly and the centre-backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci who Jose Mourinho once claimed should, “go to Harvard University to give classes about how to be a central defender”.
While the Bianconeri attempted to address the lack of glamour in their style of play by bringing in Ronaldo and replacing the pragmatic Massimiliano Allegri with the more progressive Maurizio Sarri, the club don’t want to lose their identity and what has always ensured them success – the defence.
Juventus have boasted some of the greatest defensive partnerships in world football, from Gaetano Scirea and Claudio Gentile in the early 1980s, who helped Juve and the Italian national team win multiple trophies, to their famed ‘BBC’ backline that took them to two Champions League finals in the past five years. However, with Andrea Barzagli retiring and Chiellini to follow suit in the next few years, the Turin giants need heroes to carry the torch forward.
Defence is the one area Juve have historically always invested in, even if it meant breaking records. The purchase of Gianluigi Buffon for £23.3m in 2001 was the highest any club had ever paid for a goalkeeper and a record that stood until 2018 when Alisson’s arrival at Liverpool surpassed the record.
Fabio Capello’s Juventus side in 2005-06 boasted one of the most expensive and valuable backlines in European football. Lilian Thuram and Fabio Cannavaro formed the heart of that defence. The Italian won the Ballon d’Or that year and remains the last defender to have won the honour while Thuram’s arrival in Turin broke Manchester United hearts and transfer records when the Serie A giants paid £23m, the highest amount ever paid for a defender at that time, in 2001.
By bringing in De Ligt and making him their highest paid star after Ronaldo, Juventus have gone back to investing in their bread and butter, their backline. Great defenders belong in Italy, to be trained by Italian coaches. Maurizio Sarri did a great job with improving Koulibaly at Napoli and developing Daniele Rugani, the former Empoli youngster now at Juventus.
For his part, De Ligt will not only play with Ronaldo, the star he has idolised all his life and who helped bring him to Italy, but he will play alongside a legendary centre-back partnership and will have Gianluigi Buffon behind him in goal in a league that has always been valued for defensive organisation and instilling discipline.
Make no mistake, De Ligt is the perfect signing for Juve and their brand and the club is the perfect destination for a young defender looking to continue his defensive apprenticeship.