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How Matthijs De Ligt Rose To Emerge As 2019 Ballon D’Or Best Youth Player

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Matthijs De Ligt

Very few would think otherwise about De Ligt really deserving the Kopa award for the best young player at the 2019 Ballon D’Or that took place in Paris last night. The reason is quite clear, he has proven himself over the years and many even assume ‘he plays better than he should.’

De Ligt’s nomination comes on the back of a stunning campaign last season with Ajax, whom he captained to their first Champions League semi-final since 1997 at the tender age of 19.

The talented young defender was the subject of an intense bidding war in the summer, with Juventus beating early favourites Barcelona to secure his signature in July.

Following his 85-million-euro move to Serie A, the Ajax academy graduate has clocked up 15 appearances for Juventus, netting one goal.

Let’s start from the beginning. Matthijs de Ligt was born on the 12th of August 1999 in a hospital in Leiderdorp, close to Leiden. Matthijs and his family shortly after that moved to Abcoude, a town just south of Amsterdam with Ajax Showtime, In an interview, Matthijs’ father told a lot about Matthijs as a kid:

When he turned 5, he started playing tennis and he did this very well. He was the best of the club in no-time. Then he went to a friend of his to football training once and he was sold. He wanted to start playing football immediately. He wasn’t that into football until he turned 6 years old.’. Matthijs played for FC Abcoude for 3 years. He was scouted by Ajax when he played in the second team of the U11’s. There was some doubt among the scouts at first though, as he was a little bit heavier than the others. However, they took the risk as they saw that he had the talent

In the same interview with Ajax Showtime, Frank de Ligt went more in-depth about Matthijs’ character:

He doesn’t like all the attention. When he has time to himself, he will play FIFA or watch a show on Netflix. He also goes to his girlfriend a few times a week. He isn’t the type of character who wants to hang out with everyone and would rather spend the time alone. His mom even had to push him to get his driver’s licence, as Matthijs said driving lessons wouldn’t fit into his schedule.’

His agent Barry Hulshoff told Ajax Showtime that Matthijs’ intrinsic motivation is wonderful:

His mind is constantly occupied with what he needs to be a good defender. He always gives 100% and he sets targets for himself, which he will accomplish if there are no injury problems.’

2016/2017 was a very good season for Matthijs. He started out in Ajax U21, but soon moved on to the first team. He was included in the first team in preseason already, when Ajax played in the Champions League qualifiers, but he didn’t get any minutes yet. His first minutes came in a cup game against Willem II. And in true Ajax debutant fashion, Matthijs scored.

After that, things went quickly.  Matthijs de Ligt became the youngest player ever to play in an European final, in a squad with an average age under 23. Matthijs played a total of 11 Eredivisie games and 9 Europa League games, wherein he got an average grade of 7.03.

To compare, Hakim Ziyech was Ajax’ best player with an average grade of 7.55. For Matthijs it was the season of his breakthrough, the season of the European run, but also the season of his debut for the national team. This wasn’t quite the success though. He made his debut against Bulgaria, made a big mistake which resulted in a goal and was substituted at halftime. Many people thought that this would stagnate his development, but Matthijs learned from it and has since put in steady performances for the national team.

The football world is yet to see all of De Ligt’s talent and with a bigger role at Turin, expect the best to come!

Adelowo Adegboyega
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