Defender | Ajax | Netherlands
It’s a universal law: just as Bordeaux produces fine wines, Ajax produces fine footballers.
These days, the club’s standing might not be on a par with the European giant from the big five leagues due to the club’s financial power and the might of its own league, but the know-how and expertise in the club’s academy has been passed down generation to generation. There’s something artisanal about it.
The cream of the current crop is without doubt Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt.
Despite this being just De Ligt’s second full season in the first team, he has already played in a Europa League final and already been capped for his country 13 times. Such game time at a high level for club and country will no doubt stand him in good stead for his future development.
2018 Has Been…
… absolutely fantastic.
Despite their sensational crop of young talent - many of whom are in this list - Ajax have not won the Dutch league since 2014. The runners-up medals that these young talents are accruing is a little worrying in some ways, but you’d like to think it teaches these well-rounded footballers about disappointment and defeat at a young age.
So far, De Ligt has three Eredivisie runners-up medals and a Europa League final defeat, too. But in December 2018 he did win the Golden Boy award, beating Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and becoming the first defender ever to win that award.
Internationally, too, this has been a spectacular year. Ten of his 13 caps have come in 2018, and Ronald Koeman’s Netherlands side have performed so well that they’ve gone from being a nation in sad decline to one filled with exciting young talents. Their reward is a semi-final place in the inaugural Nations League tournament and after that… who knows!
So far, De Ligt has been going from strength to strength and that meteoric rise is showing no signs of abating.
Being a top first teamer for Ajax ain’t what it used to be. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in world football, though the Dutch league has obviously fallen on fairly hard times and you get the feeling that it won’t be long before De Ligt makes the move to a top club in one of the Big Five leagues. With 20 clean sheets in 35 games his ability to marshall a back four is beyond his years, there’s a real possibility that he makes the step up sooner rather than later.
On the other hand, a few more years learning his trade in the Netherlands would be no bad thing. It’s easy to forget that the Dutchman is just 19 years such is his impact. Whilst his next move will be important, his talent and maturity should see him rise to the top sooner or later.