Future Stars: Golden Boy Matthijs de Ligt

In a week in which Ajax needed penalties to overcome Fortuna in the National Cup, Feyenoord beat FC Utrecht 1-0 and needing 20+ goal chances to do so, John van ‘t Schip got sacked at PEC Zwolle and Real Madrid is shivering the best news of course was Matthijs’ winning the Golden Boy award.

If there is one player of which it is certain he will be a Dutch football star for many years to come, it is the 19 year old Ajax skipper. I mean… let that sink in: 19 year old Ajax skipper!

His election was not a surprise to anyone. When you are a defender and you only made 1 foul on your own half in half a season, well… That is quite the statistic.

So, in a line of players like Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba, Mbappe and Rafa van der Vaart, Matthijs is European football royalty.

It is noteable to mention to that Justin Kluivert got to third place, behind Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold.

But, I believe he is the first defender in the whole series and that makes it extra special. Just like Virgil van Dijk was Player of the Month in England recently, the first defender to get that honour in many years (following Dutchies like Van Persie, Bergkamp, Van Nistelrooy, Van der Vaart and Krul).

The spotlights were on De Ligt (and other Ajax players) already in the transfer jungle and it seems Barcelona is happy to wait for the right moment (coming summer?) to sign the youngster. While picking up his award in Turin, Juve threw in the big guns (Pavel Nedved) to convince De Ligt to cancel his Spain flight and head to Italy instead…

Ajax coach Erik ten Hag is incredibly proud of this player. “This is a highly prestigious award. A tremendous honour. He is so young still but already has so much under his belt. And it shows also where he could end up. Usually, it’s forwards that get the plaudits and now a defender. And he did it all himself. How he work, what he invests… It’s a tremendous stimulus. I can see him improve even more. He is so down to Earth and you can see him eat it all up, and enjoy it all. He is so motivated to learn. This award will be like doping for him.”

At the Tuttosport Gala in Turin, the presenter of the night couldn’t control himself and asked De Ligt about Juve. “Juventus? A wonderful club. A huge club. It’s great when your name is linked to a club like Juve, but currently my focus is Ajax.” The presenter: “But…playing with C Ronaldo?”. Matthijs: “He truly is an inspiration for me. His dedication to the game, he is always looking for challenges.”

Nedved with De Ligt

The award show was further augmented with a series of photos of De Ligt, one where he was an Ajax ball boy, posing with Suarez. “Hahaha, yes Ajax will give young players chances… I was a ball boy then, I’m the skipper now.”

Asked about the players that went before him: “Oh that list, yes… I looked them up and I think I know that list by heart, hahaha. Messi for me is the top of the top. I was six years old when he won this award. I am so proud.

In the Eredivisie, De Ligt is hardly challenged. Striker like Luuk de Jong are not a real challenge for him. Matthijs is strong, quick, tall and reads the game astonishingly well. It’s more the Idrissi (AZ) and Van Persie like strikers / forwards in Holland that might be able to surprise him. Only one foul on his own half, in 14+ matches… Did I mention that?

But internationally, De Ligt still have some big chores ahead of him. The Bayern CL game at home for Ajax, showed how hard it can be to defend against world class strikers, from the category Benzema, Cavani, C Ronaldo or Diego Costa.

Take the Lewandowski goal against Ajax. A De Ligt mistake for sure. In the Eredivisie, that would probably never be fatal. Lewandowski lives for these types of situations. Wober is ball watching. Lewandowski sees it and immediately makes a run into that space. De Ligt sees it but gets startled and instead of playing him off side by stepping up, he drops back and allows the Bayern striker to be on side: 0-1.

A mistake a more experienced defender might not make. And a mistake that will allow De Ligt to become that more experienced defender. As the saying goes: I owe my good decision making to my experience. I owe my experience to the bad decisions I made.

De Ligt’s real asset is not his defending per se. There are many good and solid defenders in Europe. But there are not a lot of defenders who can play ball like De Ligt. He has a good pass in his legs, he can dribble too. That is what you get with a central defender who was developed as a midfielder.

Against Bayern’s 4-4-2, any wrong pass would immediately to a counter, as we saw. But De Ligt is the player with the highest passing accuracy. The passes don’t go forward too often though, which is changed when in the second half Blind and De Jong change roles and De Ligt moves more to the right, where he can successfully feed Ziyech.

In the second half, there is one situation that shows how good De Ligt really is. First he takes the pointy end out of the Bayern counter by moving into Coman and when Rafinha enters the box with potentially two tea mates to pick out, De Ligt doesn’t bite but defends the space and keeps really in control.

Any other player might feel forced to choose. De Ligt simply stays on the front foot and keeps an eagle eye on the movement of the two forwards and the decision making of Rafinha. Rafinha gets confused, De Ligt can intercept his pass and with his kick upfield launches Dolberg who will claim the penalty as a result and puts Ajax in front (Tadic).

De Ligt did have some errors in the game, slight ones, but they did result in two goals. Typical, when you play against a top team. In the run up to the penalty, he is too late in letting Lewandowski go and move up to Thiago, which results in Tagliafico making the wrong decision. And with the 2-3, he realises too late that Mazraoui is out of position and he can’t block the shot anymore.

Matthijs’ team mates are to blame for these last two goals, but De Ligt couldn’t rescue the situation.

The Polish gunslinger does score twice but has hardly a win in the personal duels with De Ligt. He loses most aerial battles and is on par with De Ligt in the 50-50 challenges.

De Ligt’s biggest point to improve is his agility (or lack thereof). Matthijs reads situations amazingly well but if he makes an error, he lacks the explosivity and agility to correct it. Of course, a lot of amazing defenders lack this (Boateng, Kompany, Terry) so it doesn’t mean all that much, but improvement in this area will surely make De Ligt a sensational defender.

Typical for the down to Earth dude he is, after the Bayern match the Ajax captain said the infamous words: “Ok, this was a real challenge.”


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  1. I have been closely watching Calvin Stengs since his return from injury. He started very cautiously: avoiding clashes with opponents, not fighting for ball. His passes were lacking accuracy and dribbling was not there either. His last game with Zwolle has been the best so far. He still tries to avoid aggressive tackles and that is why loses often the ball, but his dribbling is getting better and better. Some of his long ball passes were amazing. This Saturday AZ play with PSV, the same team against whom he got that terrible injury. AZ will lose this game anyway and if I was van den Brom I would rest Calvin. I believe in bad coincidences….

  2. Fine entry again, Jan…

    And how about this bit of good Dutch fortune? Not long ago, we were sweating the department of Jonny Heitinga, sorting through Bruma and Vlaar and Bruno…

    Now we have the most expensive and the “golden” center backs in football. It’s a dream pair. I try not to say anything out loud about them for fear of jinxing it all.

  3. Apart from the LB, the defense pretty much looks to be covered with upcoming talents who have good ceiling. Ki Jana Hoever is one of them and has recently being promoted to liverpool first team training. This guy has a good furture in making at liverpool and again you jus see how klopp has transformed the Liverpool backline with youngesters like Joe Gomez trent alexender Arnold and andrew Robertson.to thnik about nobody just gets a invititation to come and train with the first team.im sure by the time van dijk is done at Liverpool, ki jana Hoever will be ready to fill his shoes or even more earlier than that if he hits his peak like De ligt.

    Van Drongelen is another for sure is going to hit the big stage in few seasons time. In no time he had established himself as a start at hamburg and they are also currently leading the bundasliga 2. De ligt and Van Drongelen could well be the new face of the backline in not so distance future.

  4. Good future 4 Orange with Ligt, Dilrosun, Berwingj, Kluivert, Chong, Drongelen, Boadu, Redan, Hoever, Gravenberg, Malen, Piere,Steng, Danjuma

    We have to utilize Virgil, de Vrij, Depay, de Jong, de Roon, Winajdum, Dumfries to support them

    And let’s see if any late blossom such as Ake, TeTe, Hanstuboer, Hoedt, Fosu, Bazoer, Raidewal, El Ghazi, ter Avest, Gouweleeuw, Willems, Weghorst,de Beek, Klassen,Bacuna, Locadia,Kongolo, Kardorf

    1. AKE IS A star man Ruud…only problem is Virgil is his enemy…if not He would start..
      Bazeor is one hell of talent who can come back at anytime if he is fit and mentally fit.De beek is consistant and he will be ethere..kongolo,De beek are doing well and enough get in to NT…also kasdorp could come back he is top notch talent ,but lot depend on fitness and playing time..
      We dont need Klassen(poor skilled)Elghazi(no vision),etc….
      others are more or less same,they can spoiled or can come back,cannot comment..

        1. It has nothing to do wat i said..Ake is great star so is Virgil..unfortunatly in NT they compete each other as LCB end of the story..
          i like Ake to step in as our visionary DM
          ——Vilhena——Van de beek——

      1. No no, i love Ake & follow his
        Footstep every season, imo Ake not really a star even though he ‘s now cleansheet at club & getting better in Orange with some minutes, to reach higher level he need to improve & show more & more, to me he behide Virgil, de Ligt, de Vrij, Drongelen, Dumfries

  5. Great article Jan!

    So while we’ve been lamenting the decline of Dutch football, yet another generation of young talent is beginning to emerge. Hopefully as Ruud says, Virgil and Depay can remain in their prime long enough for these young guys — Frenkie, de Ligt, etc., to form our next great team!

  6. One other note — I live in Atlanta now, and although I’ve never really paid much attention to US football / soccer since my youth when Cruyff played here, we’ve really embraced the new MLS team that plays here — Atlanta United. They play very fast and direct with a lot of South American flair players and are actually pretty fun to watch. I even bought an away jersey (orange and white of course).

    Martino (former Argentina and Barcelona manager) was their coach, but he’s leaving after this season and they are now considering Frank de Boer as his replacement! I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, having coached the sport and my own children in the US for years, I would love for an Ajax-style academy program to take root here in Atlanta. On the other hand, FdB’s team have never really inspired me from a style standpoint, and I worry that our city will lose enthusiasm for the team if we revert to a slow-motion, possession based system that de Boer seemingly has favored recently. Any thoughts?

    Not sure who will ultimately succeed Martino, but just happy to have a new hometown team that is (and hopefully will continue to be) fun to watch!

  7. Aka the thing I like about him is seems that he can play many positions and he has the ability to change the game

    The thing I don’t like about him is he is too loyal to his club

    He should go and move on fo a bigger club and play champions league ASAP

    Looks at mbappe age or Leroy sane

    1. I think it will be hard for Ake to compete for a spot in NT if he continues to play CB at bournemouth.the day van dijk is not avaliable or is injured, without a doubt daley blind will be given the nod.this just because he is the mr versatility with more more caps than him even though he is a proven shitter. Its either Ake step it up at bournemouth so that big teams start coming for him or he move to another team where he can get to play where his strength lies. Akes performance for NT thus far without a doubt has being overwhelming but the sad part is with De Ligt and Van Dijk, the window of opportunity will always be small and with less minutes he wont be able to rise his stakes in NT.

      I also think Ake should pack up some more muscle to help him arielly and he needs to get his stats up when playing with the big teams.this will automatically reflect his performance.as it is even though he is playing for bournemouth, his major downfall has being his awareness.who is behind him which player he should be marking etc.he plays at LCB but you will find him on the right side with his side exposed.this is why I said earlier he needs to step asap.he is good on ball, tackling but his awarness his something that he needs to work on. You can go and look at the replay of bournemouth games and try to analysis this, you will see what im trying to say here.at first I kept ignoring it but this is one of his major weakness.

      He also started in the midfield in the carabao cup in the mid week vs chelsea and it was the same story.he was good on ball when with possession, passes but in defense he looked lost.even loftus cheek dominated him.

      To play in a top club he will really need to improve on this.

      1. Ake is a master header like Kluivert..u dont need muscle for that..are you joking????
        ake is too good at air much better than even Vandijk considering his height..Dot joke…
        Ake should play as DM there we have only 1 there now in De roon i hope St juste and Ake will step in there.
        Ake is top notch as LCB..its his bad luck that we have virgil at LCB

        1. The problem with you is that you open your hole without seeing or watching any games.as a defender or DM you need to have a CERTAIN degree of aggressiveness/ toughness.im not saying he is a zero but he is not the best either.One again pliz go and watch the replay of bournemouth and newcastle and then you open your hole which seems to be open all the time.ok I will do it for.


          Rondons second goal.

          1. How about virgil cutting his hair and getting agility???
            How about chelsea academy and coaches who makes makes world class players…which Chelsea is famous for
            As per you…
            I have not forgotten those Jokes..

          2. Before I go to the subject that you have dug up, I want to ask what happened to the subject that was being discussed.(Ake). You see this is the problem with you.you cant give a valid justification and you start running with the dress over your head.

            Coming back to van dijk and agilty part, yes I said it but it was purely from an athlete point of pespective.even though van dijk is one of best defenders right now but he certainly is not fast.now this is to back it up. Girouds goal for france vs NT.though the goal was nothing to do with his hair, but van dijks reaction time was simply slow.there is very few games liverpool have being caught on counters and every time it has happened van dijk has being in no mans land. As soon as he is outfooted he is gone.


            Again from an athlete point of pespective when it comes to acceleration does long hair enhance performance.simply no, if so Bolt would have being like bob marely or lucky dube running with dread locks.this was the very same principle I applied to the van dijk statement that if he cut his hair it could enhance his acceleration to a certain degree.Again to a certain degree. Why?This is where if I still remember correctly in that statement I used cathy freeman as an example as to why she wore the body suit in OGs 2000.if you compare van dijk (92 kg) to maldini (85), Cannavaro (75), Nesta (82), they were not as big as what van dijk is and which simply made them more mobile than what he is today. Even with Ramos (82) who use to have long hair before wouldnt have mattered much, because his built also is lighter.same goes with David Luiz (82).

            I sincerly hope you get im not making this up and have a justification behind it.dont go running pans down this time around.

  8. I actually thought it would be 100% de de vrij , if In case either Van Dijk or de Ligt are not available

    For Nathan Ake, I was actually referring him to other positions as he can play in many others

    Too bad he is playing for a small club but once he moves I’m sure Koeman won’t be able to deny him

    He can play as a strong sub for many position for Oranje

  9. Bayern leverkusan have appointed peter Bosz as their new coach.hopefully this time around he will be able to sink his tooth tightly. leverkusan is a good team with good players like volland, baliey,Brandt, havertz, Tah, bender brothers. Technically he will get luxury of acquiring a young and talented squad, the rest is up to him.

  10. Well it’s official. Frank de Boer is the new manager of Atlanta United in the MLS. This ought to be interesting.

    Not sure what type of move this will be for his career, but I hope he is successful!

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