At just 19 years of age, it’s hard to comprehend that Matthijs de Ligt is already a bona fide leader of men.
Not yet out of his teens, the Ajax centre-back has already earned the respect of colleagues much older, and he led the Dutch side by example throughout the 2018/19 season.
Unfortunately for Ajax they remain a selling club and, after losing Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona, they’re now on the verge of accepting that De Ligt will ply his trade elsewhere in the upcoming campaign.
The style of play at the Camp Nou would certainly suit the player, and a chance to team up with De Jong again will obviously hold some cachet, however, things are far from cut and dried.
His agent, Mino Raiola, has a fractious relationship with the club, and that’s only been exacerbated since the end of the season.
Raiola is demanding somewhere in the region of €10 million euros for himself, out of a transfer operation that’s expected to conclude at around the €80m mark.
To genuinely believe that he should take that much out of the total sale price is vulgar and disgusting, but that’s never bothered Raiola before, and he always seems to hold the upper hand in negotiations.
To that end, De Ligt has been touted around amongst Europe’s best clubs, and, though they don’t have Champions League football to offer, it’s believed that Manchester United are one of them.
The chance to take the Red Devils back to the promised land is an intoxicating thought for any player, and under a progressive Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, De Ligt will know that he can stake an immediate claim for a starting spot rather than waiting, for example, for Gerard Pique to retire.
United have struggled with their centre-backs recently too. Eric Bailly is probably the pick of the bunch, but injury concerns have always curtailed his progress and he won’t be back any time soon.
The less said about Phil Jones the better, while Chris Smalling can be a much better player with a solid partner alongside.
De Ligt is commanding, physical and technically adept, all facets of play that will be manna from heaven for Solskjaer. It’s been an awful long time since they’ve had a ball-playing centre back to bring the ball out of defence too.
More than happy to put a shift in, the youngster will never shirk a tackle, and is rarely beaten in the air either.
A natural determination to win every challenge is the driving force behind the way in which De Ligt goes about his work, inspiring others in so doing.
It’s often said that title-winning teams are built on solid defensive foundations.
Though United are far from that at the moment, the building blocks have to be laid at some point, so why not now.
Ed Woodward will be acutely aware that he has to back Solskjaer to the hilt and not do to the Norwegian what he did with Jose Mourinho, turning down the manager once he identifies appropriate talent.
Even if De Ligt costs them a world record price from a defender, given his age and his projection, it will, in time, seem like a bargain fee for a player who is destined to become one of, if not the world’s best in his position.
There is no ceiling on what he can achieve, and that is precisely the sort of player that Manchester United need to be looking at if they want to get back to the summit of the Premier League and in Europe.