Ajax have one of the most famous youth academies in the world. When they won the Champions League in 1995 they did so with many graduates such as Davids, Kluivert, Reiziger, van der Sar, Seedorf and the de Boer brothers. 22 years on and Ajax are on the verge of reaching another European final. Comparisons are being made to the famous side of the mid 90s due to the 2016/17 team being young, exciting and containing many graduates from their academy.
In March one of their graduates, Matthijs de Ligt, was called up for the first time in the Netherlands squad. Whilst to many it may have come as a surprise when Danny Blind named the 17-year-old in his squad, the defenders development this season has been incredible.
He only made his debut for Ajax last September in a cup game against Willem II. De Ligt scored after 25 minutes from a corner, making him the second ever youngest scorer in the club’s history. It wasn’t until the following month that he was promoted to the senior squad from Jong Ajax. However, he had to wait until November before making his league debut in a 1-0 win over Heerenveen. Since then the defender has become a regular for Peter Bosz and he has performed extremely well for a player of his age.
De Ligt is an elegant two-footed central defender. He is dominant in the air, physically strong and is a fine distributor of the ball, which means that he can play out from the back. This has drawn comparisons with former academy graduate, Jan Vertonghen.
There is doubting that he is one of the biggest talents to emerge from the Netherlands in recent years. Ajax will be hoping that he continues his development in Amsterdam and forms the bedrock of their defence for years to come.