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Matthijs de Ligt, Ajax's classy NxGn defender with Europe's elite at his door

5:54 PM GMT+8 21/12/2018
Matthijs de Ligt
The Dutchman is one of the brightest talents to come out of Ajax's famous academy over the last decade and is a regular in the Holland national team

Death, taxes, Ajax's academy producing a multi-talented superstar.

The Eredivisie giants have idolised a number of homegrown prospects over the years, with defender Matthijs de Ligt set to be the latest in a long line of stars who have got their grounding in the Dutch capital before conquering the football world.

Strong physically and mentally, quick and technically proficient, De Ligt has become a fixture of Ajax's first-team over the past couple of seasons - he started in the Europa League defeat to Manchester United, aged just 17 - but the teenager's development has ramped up a notch in 2018. 

In 2017-18, De Ligt averaged around 63 passes per game in the Eredivisie and had an 89 per cent passing accuracy as Ajax were pipped to league glory by PSV Eindhoven - he completed 1,730 short passes last season, 95 more than any other player in the Dutch top-flight.

Those statistics have only improved during the first half of the current campaign; De Ligt now completes around 69 passes per game, with a 92% passing accuracy to boot.

Despite being exceedingly good in possession, De Ligt has shown that he is evolving into more than just a throwback Libero. So far this season the fully-fledged Holland international has made 3.5 clearances and won 2.7 aerial duels per game, and his commanding performances have helped his side reach the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time in 15 years.

His progress, of course, has not gone unnoticed. Links to Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus have been prevalent in recent months, but Europe's elite have been warned they will have to cough up an astronomical fee if they wish to prise him away from the Amsterdam ArenA. 

“At 19 years old, he is already exceptional,” Ajax legend Jari Litmanen said. “Can you imagine what he will be like at 23? When he leaves Ajax, he will be the most expensive defender in history.”

De Ligt will seemingly have his pick of clubs to choose from whenever he decides to leave his homeland, with Barcelona seemingly the most likely due to the connection between both clubs courtesy of the great Johan Cruyff.

Such a move would be something of a natural next step for the teenager, who believes his game draws parallels with long-serving Barca stalwart Gerard Pique, the man he could well succeed in Catalunya before long. 

“I am similar to him [Pique],” he said. ”I like to carry the ball out from the back. Defensively I am strong and, like Gerard, I also started as a midfielder. Ajax’s style of play is similar to Barcelona’s. High press, a high defensive line and a high level of ball possession.”

After a rather monumental 2018, De Ligt has the world at his feet. Where will 2019 take him?