Football

Matthijs de Ligt: Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta among my idols

Dutch centre-back, who completed his move to Juventus yesterday, says he fell in love with Italian way of defending

As a kid, Matthijs de Ligt idolised the Italian legends of defending, such as Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro.

The 19-year-old Dutchman, whose deal to join Italian giants Juventus was finalised yesterday after a medical, said the Azzurri greats' ability to make defending an art was a key reason behind his decision to leave Ajax Amsterdam.

The Turin club announced that de Ligt has joined them on a five-year deal worth 75 million euros (S$114.5m), plus add-ons.

"I have been fascinated by the Italian way of defending from an early age," de Ligt told Ajax TV.

"Many of my idols from the past are also Italians. Such as Maldini, (Franco) Baresi, Nesta, Cannavaro and (Gaetano) Scirea.

"When you talk about defenders, then you soon talk about those names.

"I actually fell in love with the Italian way of defending and I made a choice based on that."

Juventus said in a statement that they would pay Ajax the hefty sum over five financial years, with "additional costs" of 10.5 million euros.

The combined fee makes de Ligt the world's most expensive defender, surpassing the 84m euros Liverpool paid to sign his Dutch teammate Virgil van Dijk from Southampton last year.

The Holland international made headlines last season when he captained his former club to the Champions League semi-finals, becoming the youngest to do so.

"It's the news all Bianconeri fans have been waiting to hear all summer: Matthijs de Ligt is officially a Juventus player!" the club said in a statement on their website.

The contract includes a buyout clause of 150m euros that will be activated in its third year, broadcaster Sky Italy reported on Wednesday.

After breaking into the Ajax first team aged 17 in 2016, de Ligt established himself as a regular starter over the following season and soon became the most coveted defender in Europe due to his strength, anticipation and ability on the ball.

SILVERWARE

He played 90 minutes in 17 of Ajax's 18 Champions League matches last season, scoring three times in a run which culminated in a semi-final defeat by English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur on away goals.

De Ligt did win the Eredivisie title and Dutch Cup in his final campaign at Ajax, alongside teammate Frenkie de Jong, who has since joined Barcelona.

Spanish media reported that de Ligt had also been courted by the Catalans, but the player's agent Mino Raiola said at Juventus' headquarters on Wednesday that the Italian club were always the preferred destination.

"It's not a question of who wanted him most, but Juve are the best team for him. For a defender, it is important to come to Italy," Raiola said.

"If you are to become the greatest in the world, it is a necessary stage.

"He's the number one among the youngsters. He's like (Pavel) Nedved, maybe more than him, for his mentality and he's like Zlatan (Ibrahimovic) for his ambition. He has it all."

De Ligt had told Holland's NOS television last month that Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo asked him to join the Turin-based club at the end of the Nations League final after Portugal beat Holland. - REUTERS

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