There wasn’t an elite club not interested in Matthijs de Ligt. Indeed, the Dutch defender, fresh from a breakout season at Ajax, had his pick of the very best. Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid… they were all at one point or another reported to be interested in the teenager.
Ultimately, de Ligt decided upon Juventus as the next destination in a career destined for the top. Initially, it looked to be a shrewd decision. In Turin, he would challenge for titles and embed himself in a footballing culture that puts more of an emphasis on defending than most. Juventus seemed to be the perfect place for the Dutchman.
Things haven’t quite panned out for de Ligt as planned, though. The 20-year-old made a number of high profile mistakes over his first few weeks as a Juventus player, playing without the composure and assurance that impressed so many in Ajax’s sensational run to the semi-finals of the Champions League last season. With every match, de Ligt appeared more and more flustered.
Now, he has been benched by Maurizio Sarri, not starting a match since the 3-1 defeat to Lazio at the start of December. Sarri had been using de Ligt alongside Leonardo Bonucci in central defence, but has now installed Merit Demiral alongside the Italian international as a stop-gap solution. It’s even been speculated that de Ligt could return to Ajax on loan for the second half of the season, although that now seems unlikely following the injury suffered by Demiral against Roma on Sunday.
Of course, it’s common for young players to suffer inconsistencies in their development, but de Ligt was viewed by many as the finished article, a one-man defensive bedrock who would succeed anywhere. At Juventus, though, de Ligt has looked out of his depth, prone to lapses in concentration.
“I was very proud of Juventus’ interest, it was an honour for me,” de Ligt explained to JTV in a recent interview, casting his mind back to the summer. “I’ve always liked Juventus and I’m proud to wear this shirt. It’s a big challenge. Turin is completely different from Amsterdam; I have seen a lot of interesting places. I hope to stay here for a long time.”
Sarri’s decision to take de Ligt out of the spotlight, for the time being, could be the right one. The Dutchman had entered a spiral which saw him make even more blunders the harder he tried. De Ligt is far from being written off, but his difficult start to life at Juventus underlines how even youngsters of his talent can struggle in making the next step.