Past champions Juventus and Manchester United were dumped out of the Champions League at the hands of Ajax and Barcelona, respectively, with the first fixtures of the Quarter-Finals this week.
Juventus couldn’t end over two decades worth of hurt in the competition, even with five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo burgeoning the ranks, with the Old Lady defeated at home to a far superior Ajax side who have illuminated the tournament with at-times breathtaking football, full of style, swagger, and pizazz, though noticeably devoid of arrogance and self-entitlement under the guidance of manager Erik ten Hag.
Ajax now find themselves in the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 1996/1997, and with a chance to win their first elusive trophy since the season before that.
The players who now find themselves in the last four have rightly gained the plaudits, none more so than 19-year-old skipper Matthijs de Ligt, who even popped up with a captain’s header to put past Juventus’ Wojciech Szczesny for the winner that sealed passage into the next round.
De Ligt has missed just the opening game of the campaign - at home to AEK Athens - starting and completing all ninety minutes since throughout the group stage and the subsequent knockout rounds. This is on top of the preliminary qualifying rounds Ajax had to play.
De Ligt has been absent for just a single week of action, in September, across three fixtures across all competitions,
Not only has his presence helped Ajax on course for a continental treble, topping the Eredivisie on goal difference, and through to the final of the FNVB Cup, but this season he’s become the youngest ever captain of a side in the Champions League last 16, besting Cesc Fabregas’ record with Arsenal set ten years ago in 2009. De Ligt impressed past the winner of the last three tournaments, Real Madrid in the Round of 16 before facing Los Blancos’ former star CR7.
There’s an illustrious name who Matthijs de Ligt would beat if he did eventually lift the most prestigious trophy in European club football at the Wanda Metropolitano in June, after progressing through the semi-finals.
Didier Deschamps recently became just the third man to win the World Cup as both player and manager, with the France national team in last year’s tournament in Russia, and only the second to have done so as captain. He’s also only the third person with Iker Casillas and Franz Beckenbauer to have lifted the World Cup, Euro, and Champions League trophy as skipper, as well as one of the only people, alongside the likes of Liverpool duo Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalgish to win a league title in one of Europe’s top five leagues at the same club as both player and manager, with Olympique de Marseille.
Les Phocéens’ victory in the inaugural tournament in 1992/93 also set the benchmark with Deschamps being just 24 years old when Marseille became the first - and sor far only - French club to win the Champions League.
De Ligt - who's younger than MySpace - would smash this record by five whole years. Incredible: World. At. Feet.