Moving out of home is a major deal for teenagers. You gain independence and a sense of freedom you rarely experience whilst living with your parents.
At 18 years of age, young Ajax centre back Matthijs de Ligt is about to embark on this transition, leaving his native Holland and the club that has nurtured and looked after him since he was eight.
Say goodbye and pack your bags, Matthijs.
The question, though, is where de Ligt is going to settle for the foreseeable future? Manchester or London?
Tottenham perceive the centre back as the perfect candidate to replace the imminently departing Toby Alderweireld, another product of the Jong Ajax academy, but Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, too, has declared his interest in de Ligt.
Oli Stein examines where’s best for the youngster to set up shop.
Guardiola signed Aymeric Laporte in January for defensive reinforcements, but the Spaniard views de Ligt as a long-term replacement for his injury prone captain, Vincent Kompany.
In terms of suitability for City’s football, the 18-year-old is a technically sound, ball-playing centre back in the style of how Guardiola perceives centre backs should play. That being de Ligt’s ability on the ball, composure under pressure and willingness to build passages of play from the back.
Thus, de Ligt certainly fits the mould. Coming from Jong Ajax, the youngster has been trained in ball retention and passing, two key facets of both the Dutch and Guardiola schools of football.
Does that mean this is the right move for de Ligt?
Whilst de Ligt might be earmarked as a future successor for Kompany, the fact of the matter is that Manchester City still have four centre backs in their ranks: Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones and Aymeric Laporte.
There are doubts, therefore, over how much game-time de Ligt will see in the Premier League, though there will be opportunities in the Champions League and domestic cups.
De Ligt is at a crucial stage of his early career in which he needs to be playing regularly at the top level to ensure his development continues as predicted and doesn’t stall.
De Ligt’s frame of mind when asked on where he sees himself in the future is revealing about which club would be the better fit for this stage of his career:
I am going to make a decision with my head, not based on money. My next step just has to be right for me. – De Ligt when questioned on his future last month.
Such words emanate maturity and level-headedness, not the money-driven ramblings of a teenager. De Ligt’s head certainly seems to be in the right place, making him a perfect fit for the rigourous club run by Mauricio Pochettino.
Whilst Spurs won’t offer de Ligt the same wages Manchester City could, they can provide a stable and supportive home in which he’ll see plenty of playing time. The centre back has already been touted as a direct replacement for Alderweireld.
Tottenham and Pochettino, more specifically, have an impeccable track record when it comes to developing young talent, particularly those from Ajax. De Ligt needs only look at Jan Vertonghen to see what Spurs can offer in developing a young AJax centre back. Vertonghen is arguably now one of the best centre backs in the Premier League.
In addition, it’s a chance for de Ligt to reunite the centre-back partnership that took Ajax to the Europa League final in 2016/17, with Davinson Sanchez making the move last summer. Thus, it’s an environment in which the 18-year-old can feel immediately comfortable.
Does this mean this is the right move for de Ligt?
In essence, yes.
Obviously playing time isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to deciding where next to move; there are stylistic considerations too.
However, Pochettino’s football is not only similar to Guardiola’s in some respects, but to Ajax and Holland’s too. The Argentine focuses on ball retention, vertical passing from the centre backs and high-intensity pressing, all aspects of de Ligt’s own game.
RealSport verdict: Tottenham
Whilst de Ligt would stylistically fit into both Manchester City and Tottenham, if he’s true to his word and doesn’t prioritise money over environment, then north London is the best match.
He’d be guaranteed more playing time than in Manchester in a comfortable, settled environment alongside one of his former teammates and other graduates of Jong Ajax.
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