Who: Matthijs de Ligt
From Where: Ajax
To Where: Juventus
For How Much: €75M fee, (€150m / year escalating release clause)
Grade for Juventus: A-
Grade for Ajax: B+
Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus Overview
Juventus now has two of the biggest stars on the planet.
Anchoring the defense for the foreseeable future is Matthijs de Ligt, one of the most imposing young center-backs we’ve seen in recent memory. His best days are still long in front of him. Up top is Cristiano Ronaldo. His best days are behind him, but he remains a force.
Physical defensive play and toughness have been two staples of Juve throughout their ongoing reign atop Serie A. De Ligt gives the Italians another physical, fearless presence in the back four. It’s hard to overstate how impressive the Dutch defender was throughout Ajax’s run to the Champions League semifinals, regardless of his age.
After looking that comfortable – and more importantly, playing at such a high level – on Europe’s biggest stage at the age of 19, it’s no surprise he’s been so coveted this summer.
Who is he?
Despite playing a position where even the best players are usually somewhat anonymous, the 19 year-old de Ligt turned many heads during this year’s UCL. While we’re talking about center-backs stealing the show, am I the only one wondering if de Ligt and Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk are good enough to change the way (and how much) we talk about players at that position?
Back to de Ligt, though. The teenager has already played two-and-a-half full seasons for Ajax’s senior team (he played just shy of 800 minutes in the Eredivisie in ’16-17). And as if his on-field excellence weren’t remarkable enough, de Ligt was also his club’s captain for its memorable ’18-19 season.
Even for a prodigious talent, it’s extremely unusual to have enough command of a locker room to wear the captain’s armband at less than 20 years old.
Is the price fair?
This is another player you pay whatever it takes to sign. We at High Press Soccer, and seemingly everyone else who watched Ajax in the Champions League, have praised de Ligt ad nauseam at this point. For all the reasons mentioned in this piece, the €75M fee is as “reasonable” as such a sum is ever going to be.
One intriguing aspect of de Ligt’s choice of Juventus is who he didn’t choose. Barcelona was considered by many to be his most likely destination, but did not want to pay him €12M per year for the next 10 years, according to Marca.
What impact should we expect?
This is where this signing gets interesting.
When thinking about the missing ingredients that proved the difference between Juventus and the teams that made it further than the quarterfinals of the UCL this year, defense can’t possibly top the list. While Juve’s back line is hardly this team’s weakness, there’s no denying that de Ligt’s athleticism will be an asset for an aging group.
To that point: no matter how talented they are, most 19-year-olds are role players (not fixtures in their team’s starting XI) for their first season with an elite team. De Ligt will almost certainly be the exception. Veteran Juve center-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini will remain heavily involved, but expect them to spell de Ligt – as opposed to the other way around – as new Manager Maurizio Sarri gives his young stud as many minutes as anyone on Juve’s roster.
Juventus (A-): The issue with paying top dollar for de Ligt is that this team was almost certainly going to cruise through Serie A with no problem, with or without the Dutch star. Their last coach, Max Allegri, just left (we would assume) because reaching the Champions League quarterfinals was not enough. For a team so dependent on 34-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo carrying the offensive load, will de Ligt make the Bianconeri significantly more likely to reach the UCL semis (or further)? I, for one, don’t really think so.
As discussed in greater detail on the latest High Press Pod, de Ligt-to-Barcelona would have made a ton of sense. And whether it was Barcelona, Man United or someone else in the Premier League or La Liga, it would have been fun to see him push himself in one of Europe’s best domestic leagues. After watching him excel against the continent’s best players, European soccer fans (other than diehard Juventus supporters, of course) have to be disappointed that de Ligt joined a team that is unlikely to be challenged domestically.
Having said that, Juventus got a world-class defender at 19 years old, potentially a good 5-6 years before he even hits his prime.
Ajax (B+): After its UCL run, Ajax’s team was going to be picked apart. Losing de Ligt will hurt. If Harry Maguire does end up transferring to Manchester United, here’s the question: would you rather have Maguire for
€88.9m or de Ligt for €75M?
It’s de Ligt all day long, right?
Ajax maybe could’ve gotten a little more from Juventus, or worked out a loan back deal for a year. Regardless, they are flush with the kind of cash they’ve never had in their storied history. It’ll be interesting to see how they decide to spend it.