Fans around the globe watched with admiration as AFC Ajax displayed their beautiful brand of football and reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. The Dutch club, led by a host of talented young players, played brilliantly in the knockout stage and overturned a deficit against Real Madrid in the first leg to eventually advance past the defending champions. The gauntlet only got more difficult as Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus FC waited for them in the quarter-finals. Most experts gave them no chance to pull off another upset. They were wrong and Ajax reached the semi-final where a Lucas Moura hat trick was the only thing keeping them from the finals.
While it would be unfair not to mention that Ajax’s Champions League run was mostly due to a collective team effort unlike any we’ve seen in recent years, Matthijs de Ligt played a major role in their success this season. He shined on the pitch as the leader of the defense. He never seemed lost at any point during their Champions League campaign and that’s not something that is very common for a 19-year-old center-back. He always makes sure his defensive line is synchronized, whether his team is pushing forward to attack or sitting back behind the ball. He doesn’t let many forwards get passed him and always looks out for his partners when they do get passed. His energy on the pitch is outstanding and he always seems to be pushing his limits above and beyond to sacrifice himself for his teammates. He also has an above average passing game. The Netherlands international doesn’t lose the ball very often and has a great long-pass ability in counter-attacks. His decision-making abilities are excellent and that is something PSG is lacking in their backline currently. De Ligt showed that his presence in the box is primordial in defensive set pieces and corner kicks by getting his team out of trouble countless times. That presence also makes him lethal on the offensive side of the ball where he is capable of scoring with his head or feet.
The teenage captain of the Dutch champions has shown tremendous qualities on the pitch but it’s his leadership that really stands out. He demonstrated that he can play well beyond his years and is more than a suitable captain. Leading such a young team to a Champions League semi-final is not something to overlook. Kylian Mbappé once did that and we all know what kind of player he turned out to be.
Of course, all of these qualities didn’t go unnoticed and de Ligt is in high demand by the best clubs in Europe. PSG does have other priorities in terms of recruitment, but the fact that Thiago Silva is turning 35 in September and only has one year left on his contract with no signs of an extension makes the signing of his heir apparent a priority for the reigning French champions.
When you consider his age, contract, and his inability to show up in big games consistently, I believe that Silva should not be offered an extension at PSG and the club should go all in on de Ligt during this summer transfer window. Players like him don’t come along often and we saw what signing an elite defender can do for a club. When Liverpool FC signed Virgil van Dijk, many questioned the transfer fee and whether or not he would elevate his game to justify the price. A couple of seasons later, van Dijk is regarded as the best defender in football and led Liverpool to a Champions League title last month.
PSG need to offer him the wages he desires and sell him on the opportunity to play with Neymar and Mbappé. He may still turn the club down but he is a rare gem in terms of leadership and ability and you don’t find players like him available in the transfer market often.