Matthijs de Ligt’s secret

Matthijs de Ligt’s secret

Matthijs de Ligt was sitting next to Frenkie de Jong when he received a WhatsApp message from his manager: “Congratulations Matthijs, you’ve won the Golden Boy Award.” Ajax’s captain couldn’t believe it.  Had he won?  The international prize for the most talented football player under 21!  But he didn’t remain in the clouds for long, because he still has a long way to go, he believes.

 De Ligt: “Let’s be honest: normally, Kylian Mbappé should have won this award.  I know that.  But he’d won it the year before, so he couldn’t win it again.  But Trent Alexnder had played in both a World Cup and a Champions League final, and is on the squad at Liverpool.  That’s quite something, obviously.  Also, there was Vinícius Júnior (Real Madrid) and Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen) who had played more than 100 games.  There was a lot of competition.”

 Surprise with Frenkie

“I heard the news one month before the awards ceremony. I was in the bus going to the Netherlands – France game, when I got the app from my manager.  I was so surprised…”

 “Frenkie was sitting next to me and asked what was wrong.  When I told them, we both reacted like…what?  How can this be?!  Frenkie told me that it was incredibly cool, because it was such a big award.  ‘You should be proud of this’, he said.  And I was.  But I didn’t celebrate, because the organization asked me to keep it a secret.  So just Frenkie, me, and the people surrounding me knew.”


‘Biggest talent in Europe, congratulations!’

One month later, De Ligt and his family were in a private jet on their way to Turin for the awards ceremony.  “That was so cool.  I’d never flown in a private jet before.  My parents, grandfather, grandmother, girlfriend, brother and sister were with me.  That makes the memories of the day extra special.  Legends such as Pavel Nedved were walking around there.  He congratulated me and we spoke briefly.  I was enjoying it all, but at that moment, it didn’t seem real.  That always comes later on…”

 Someone who likes to remind him of how special it all is, is his grandmother.  “She was the first to send me an app, when it was announced: ‘Biggest talent in Europe, congratulations’, she said.  She already knew, of course, but still, she was the first to congratulate me when the news was announced.  She follows everything about me.  If there’s an article published that I haven’t seen yet, then she sends it to me via WhatsApp.  She literally reads everything about me and sends me everything.”

 The ceremony in Turin

During the ceremony, De Ligt was surprised by congratulatory messages from his Ajax team mates.  In addition to that, he received a surprise from a former Ajax player and Golden Boy winner.  “Van der Vaart sent me his congratulations via video message, which was really nice.  I also got an message from Arjan Robben.  ‘Congratulations on winning this award.  Keep going this way.  I know you’ve got a good head on your shoulders, so enjoy this day.”

 After that, it was De Ligt’s turn.  “I wasn’t nervous for my speech.  I just wanted to have my say, and nothing more.  I hadn’t rehearsed it by heart.  I just thought: I’m going to say what I want to say.  It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong.”

 Confidencce boost

 For many players, winning the Golden Boy award marks the beginning of an illustrious career.  But De Ligt still sees many areas for improvement.  “There’s nothing that I’m completely satisfied with.  That’s the right mind set to go as far as possible. But I think that the most important thing is to gain experience so that I can get better at reading situations.  I feel that I’ve learned a lot in the Champions League.”

  “It’s hard to explain.  Beforehand you think: “ I need to face Robert Lewandowski today, I hope it goes well.  And then, while you’re playing, you catch yourself thinking: you’re better than you think.  It boosts your self-confidence.  It’s an interesting development in yourself, one that makes you play better.  Because he was the best player that I’ve ever played against.”

From Boy to d’Or?

It all started in Abcoude. “There I played central defense, but at Ajax I became a midfielder until B1.  So I always wore shirts of forwards.  I wore jerseys of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, Rooney and Klaas Jan Huntelaar.  It wasn’t until later than I became a defender and started looking at defenders such as Paulo Maldini.”

“Defending is very complex.  I want to improve my speed.  But if an opponent makes a great play, then all the speed in the world won’t help.  It’s all about the timing in a duel.  You learn about that by facing many different players, and dealing with different situations.  It’s not per se about specific elements such as speed, resilience, or anything like that.  Those are the small details needed to improve the big picture.”

 From Golden Boy to Ballon d’Or?  “I am under no illusions that I will ever achieve that.  Winning this prize doesn’t mean anything.  There are enough examples of talents who have won this prize, but didn’t achieve much else.  I don’t know where my upper limit is, so I need to find that first before I can think of winning more awards.”