In-demand Ajax star Matthijs de Ligt has let Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman in on his plans for what is expected to be a blockbusting close-season transfer.
The 19-year-old centre-back captained Ajax to a domestic double and the semi-finals of the Champions League in a superb 2018-19.
Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain are among the clubs to be linked with De Ligt, who is set to line up for his country when Netherlands take on England in Thursday’s Nations League Finals semi-final in Guimaraes.
Speaking at a pre-match news conference, Koeman told reporters he has an idea over what the youngster’s next move will be but would not elaborate further.
“I spoke to Matthijs one week ago about his future and that’s a secret,” he said.
“I’ve always told all the young players who are thinking about making a step that the most important thing is keep playing, keep getting minutes to develop your football.
“Also, how the club is paying is a really important reason to make your choice. He and his family and his agent will make the best decision for the player.”
Not that playing time is likely to be a problem wherever a phenomenal talent like De Ligt decides to ply his trade next.
4 – Matthijs de Ligt is the fourth teenager to score in a Champions League semi-final, after Nordin Wooter (1996, Ajax), Obafemi Martins (2003, Inter Milan) and Kylian Mbappé (2017, Monaco). Colossus. #AJATOT pic.twitter.com/FleS9Iq1zQ
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 8, 2019
“I think his big quality is that he’s only 19. It sometimes looks like he already has the experience of a player of 25,” former Barcelona defender Koeman continued.
“It was great that he had success in the Champions League, at the highest level, to compete against big, big clubs. That makes the development of young players.
“He’s a great professional, he’s really clever. He can improve, of course. That’s normal for someone of 19.
“He can develop in his construction [of possession] from behind but he is a great player at this age and he will be better in some years.
“Let’s hope he chooses for a big, big club. He deserves that.”
In De Ligt and Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk – who Koeman this week tipped to be in Ballon d’Or contention – Netherlands have a centre-back pairing that could be the envy of world football for years to come.
“Virgil is doing great,” said his national team boss after the defender joined up with his compatriots in possession of a Champions League winners’ medal.
“It’s all about winning big titles. That was, for him, the first step, the first big title.
“Let’s hope that in the future he can win more and then really, for the youth in Holland, he is a big example.”
Despite their exertions in Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Tottenham at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday, Koeman suggested he is ready to start both Van Dijk and midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum against England and Estadio D Afonso Henriques.
“If you win, you are not tired,” he added. “I have spoken with them and they say they feel good.
“If everything goes well in the last training session, we will play with our strongest team.”
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