Matthijs de Ligt has become a household name over the last 12 months, despite the fact he’ll only turn 20 next month. Since his debut for Ajax in 2016, de Ligt’s rapid rise to the top of European football has been well documented.
Already touted as one of the game’s best stoppers, football’s super elite have been jostling for the right to purchase the commanding young centre-back. Defenders in the mould of de Ligt are becoming a real rarity in the modern day, making complete players of his type the must-have accessory for a top team’s backline.
For the second consecutive year, Italian champions Juventus have arguably pulled off the biggest transfer of the summer. Beating a host of other clubs to de Ligt’s signature, the Bianconeri are finally close to making the move official after seemingly weeks of negotiations. So why has the Ajax skipper chosen to swap Amsterdam for Turin when Barcelona, Paris and Manchester were all feasible destinations?
When you consider the situation of the clubs from those cities, it is reasonable to say that Juventus is currently the best place for de Ligt to continue his progress. The red side of Manchester is floundering, while the blue side are facing a potential Champions League ban in the coming seasons. PSG appear to be in a constant state of transition, while Barcelona have already invested heavily at centre-back and were perhaps hesitant to do so again with de Ligt, instead preferring his compatriot Frenkie de Jong.
There are a number of other key factors involved. The Bianconeri have had a long-standing interest in de Ligt and made no secret of their admiration for the Dutchman. In agent Mino Raiola – a man Juve have had many dealings with - they had the ideal mediator to help facilitate this move. The fact that La Vecchia Signora are willing to break their somewhat calculated approach to transfers and make de Ligt the second highest-paid played in Serie A speaks volumes. These are elements that will have motivated de Ligt and provided him with needed reassurance.
Another important player in this move is of course Cristiano Ronaldo, a player de Ligt idolised as a young boy. Having recently tussled on the pitch, the chance to play alongside the Portuguese Number 7 is an opportunity that will not come around again. It is now well known that Ronaldo himself personally asked de Ligt to join him in Turin after last month’s UEFA Nations League final between Portugal and the Netherlands. Although played down at the time by de Ligt, it would have been a moment of immense satisfaction for the young man and potentially something he could not ignore.
CR7 aside, a wealth of experience awaits de Ligt at the Allianz Juventus Stadium. The chance to lean on the likes of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini will be invaluable to the soon to be 20-year-old. Working on a daily basis with defenders of their class and experience will only aid de Ligt’s development. As an added bonus, the return of Gianluigi Buffon will see Matthijs surrounded by unprecedented levels of support on the training field.
In the country where the art of defending has been defined, his every move will come under intense scrutiny. Although the landscape of Serie A is changing, tactics and defending will always carry the upmost importance, meaning there is no better place in Europe than the land of Calcio for de Ligt to put his skills to the test. The Oranje Number 3 has been praised for the timing and decisiveness of his defensive actions, attributes that will be celebrated and loved by his new fans.
At a time where Juventus are about to experience a complete overhaul of their playing style under new Coach Maurizio Sarri, now is the ideal time for de Ligt to arrive. The whole group will be in transition. There’s a learning curve for the players to negotiate, providing de Ligt the opportunity to start at the same point as the rest of the squad. In Sarri, de Ligt will find a Coach whose philosophy has similarities to the football he has been playing at Ajax, allowing the imposing centre-back the chance to seamlessly slip in to the team’s new methods.
At Juventus, de Ligt will find a unique club that complements his character, attitude and professionalism. The Turin giants are a winning machine and ruthless by nature, de Ligt will revel in the black and white pressure cooker. Of course, his presence will only intensify the calls for Juventus to win the trophy that continually evades them and one that de Ligt himself came agonisingly close to competing for last season. It’s something they will hope to put right together.
On the surface, Matthijs de Ligt and Juventus appear to be the perfect match. The arrival of de Ligt only heightens expectations for the new campaign and is yet another coup for Serie A and Italian football.