Matthijs de Ligt has put to bed suggestions he could have joined Manchester United in 2019, insisting they were never an option when he signed for Juventus in order to learn from the world’s best defenders.
Despite only being 21, De Ligt is already something of a household name in European football, having come through the ranks at Ajax and earned himself a reputation as arguably the best young defender in the world.
His rise was rapid and impressive at Ajax, at the time becoming the youngest player to play a major European final, the club’s youngest ever captain and the first recipient of the Golden Boy award – given to the best under-21 player in Europe – to be a defender.
Much of the praise De Ligt was afforded during his early days at Ajax related to his ability on the ball, with many expecting him to join Barcelona such were his technical talents, although United were also said to be in the running.
Therefore, his move to Juve came as something of a surprise initially, but he is adamant United – linked again more recently – have never made an approach and the switch to Turin made sense in the context of his dream to be the world’s best defender.
“Honestly, I never heard anything from them [United],” De Ligt told the Telegraph.
“It was like you did at school, like with mathematics. It was a long process. You put the pros and the cons and, in the end, I chose Juventus.”
While De Ligt arguably has not quite hit the heights most were expecting yet, with injuries proving disruptive this season, he has been showing clear signs of progress.
Although restricted to just 21 appearances in all competitions this term – partly due to a shoulder problem that kept him sidelined for three months – the Dutchman seems to have improved across the board.
His touches (86.8 from 70.8), attempted passes (76 from 61.1), completed passes (69.6 from 55.7), successful passes in the opposing half (25.1 from 20.2), tackles won (1.2 from 0.6) and interceptions (1.6 from 0.9) are all up significantly on a per-90-minute basis from last term, showing De Ligt is enjoying more influence in his second season.
“If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere,” he continued. “I’m where I want to be and where I can learn as much as possible. There are experienced guys – [Giorgio] Chiellini, [Leonardo] Bonucci – but also a goalkeeper like [Gianluigi] Buffon and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“We all have our different characteristics, and I do not try and copy them, but I look at Ronaldo and see what he does, how he stays fit all the time.
“I ask for tips, for advice. What I have also learnt is that I need to do things that are good for me. In the end you find your own rhythm.”
Buffon returned to Juve around the same time De Ligt signed, having spent 2018-19 at Paris Saint-Germain, and is still going at the grand age of 43.
He is now just 24 matches behind Alessandro Del Piero’s record of 705 appearances for the club, yet despite his longevity and age, De Ligt insists mentally he is as sharp as a player in his prime.
“Well, he could be my father!” De Ligt quipped. “It’s funny because when I see him and the way he behaves, I don’t think he’s twice my age and that’s also his strength and why he is still playing. He plays with a head like a 29-year-old.”