TERMS AGREED: Manchester United in pole position to sign £60m Golden boy winner,player wants Champions League football – Fabrizio Romano confirms

Matthijs de Ligt development
Matthijs de Ligt made his Ajax debut when he was just 17, called up into the first team by then boss Peter Bosz, back in 2016.

By 18 he was made captain by Erik ten Hag, the youngest ever Ajax player to wear the armband. By this time he had proven his quality as a regular in the squad, with his vocal leader-like qualities standing out.

His style of play was perfect for the Cruyff-influence Ajax style, with De Ligt beginning his career in the youth team as a midfielder.

He explained, via the Champions Journal: “At the beginning I was thinking, ‘I don’t like being a defender,’ but now I’m starting to realise that the way I was brought up as a midfielder is helping me. So, I’m really happy that this was the development I had to go through.

“Since the emergence of that Barcelona team, the ‘tiki-taka’ team, everybody has wanted to play from the back. And to play from the back, you need defenders who are good with the ball. That’s why technical ability is really important in my role.”

De Ligt won the prestigious Golden Boy Award in 2018, the prize given to the player voted as the best prospect in the Europe. Kobbie Mainoo is one of the nominees this year, while three Manchester United players have won it in the past, including Wayne Rooney.

The Netherlands ace admitted the combination of this award and the captaincy build the pressure on him, which was something he had to learn to adapt to.

He told Goal: “There was a lot of things coming at me at a young age. A lot of talking. Every little mistake became something really big. But the most important thing is to see the big picture.

“When you win the Golden Boy [award], that gives some pressure. But as a player, you have to love the pressure. Because it says you are something good. Seeing it this way gives me some space in my head.”

Learning on the job in Italy
Manchester United’s desire to sign De Ligt in 2019 was trumped by Juventus, who paid £67.5 million to Ajax for his signature.

Speaking to The Mail, De Ligt explained how his time in Serie A changed him, making him a more well-rounded defender, beyond what he had been taught in the Eredivisie.

De Ligt said: ‘When I was at Ajax, the focus was far more on the individual striker, whereas now I have to look at the zone too. Don’t always chase the man with the ball, but also keep an eye on the striker running into space. It’s all about evaluating the best option.

“Chiellini is a master in that sense. He has so much experience, I learned a great deal from him.

“Defending is an art form in Italy, it’s wonderful to be able to show what I can really do here. That was my objective.”

De Ligt’s spell at Juventus also coincided with the Cristiano Ronaldo era in Turin, an experience he cited as a positive eye-opener.

Discussing the Manchester United legend, with Bayern media, he explained how he was taken aback by the Portuguese icon’s relentless approach.

He said: “Cristiano Ronaldo’s hunger particularly stood out. He’s won everything, several Ballon d’Ors, the Champions League five times and every major championship he’s played in – but he still has that greed in him, like he’s a 19-year-old who’s just started his career.”

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