FourFourTwo’s 100 Best Teenagers in the World 2017: No. 8, Matthijs de Ligt
A cultured, ball-playing center back, De Ligt is the pride of Ajax. His emergence was one of the brightest points of the Amsterdamers’ 2016/17 season, when they narrowly lost out to Feyenoord in the title race and Manchester United in the Europa League final.
The teenager’s performances in Europe were terrific, and by starting against United at the age of 17 years and 285 days, the prodigy became the youngest ever Dutchman to play in a European final. He put a very decent performance too, despite Jose Mourinho’s megastars winning 2-0.
De Ligt is used to making various records. By finding the net on debut, he joined the illustrious list of Ajax superstars who did likewise – including Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten – and also became the second-youngest scorer in club history after Clarence Seedorf.
In March, he became the youngest debutant for Holland since the Second World War – but it came in controversial circumstances.
Former coach Danny Blind decided to throw the inexperienced youngster into his lineup at Bulgaria following numerous injuries, and the gamble didn't work out. De Ligt was at fault for both goals in the 2-0 defeat, and Blind outrageously decided to substitute him at half-time. He was duly fired, but the country was worried about the possible negative psychological impact on their future superstar.
They needn’t have worried: luckily for them, De Ligt isn’t fragile in the slightest. The headstrong young stopper didn't listen to his critics, and continued to focus on his performances instead.
His progress has been phenomenal. Two-footed, visionary, smart tactically, a superb passer and extremely comfortable on the ball, the 18-year-old could develop into one of the best defenders of his generation.
De Ligt’s decision to stay at Ajax for the time being has been wise, and he is now a leader at the back after Davinson Sanchez's transfer to Tottenham.
Not bad for a player who hit adulthood less than three months ago.
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