Injuries hit Liverpool’s center backs this season outside of Van Dijk. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were rated highly and combined for just over 2500 minutes, while young Joe Gomez suffered a long-term injury midway through the season.
If all are healthy, Liverpool has decent depth. Yet even Gomez doesn’t have the upside to shake a stick at De Ligt if the 19-year-old was truly interested in coming to Anfield.
I mean, “Are you interested in this 19-year-old captain of a Champions League semifinalist? He’s interested in coming there” usually doesn’t yield a firm, “No.”
As for Barcelona, it will reinforce its back line a year after allowing 36 goals. That’s pretty decent, but the Blaugranas‘ third-highest total of the last decade.
Arsenal will participate in next season’s Europa League unless it beats Chelsea in this season UEL Final on May 29 in Baku.
Lacazette, 27, has 19 goals and 13 assists for Arsenal this season and struck up a tremendous partnership with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He has not played in the Champions League since 2016-17.
Arsenal is being linked with a big attacking target, too, and is said to be intrigued with Ajax boss Marc Overmars comments that Hakim Ziyech will be allowed to leave if his $28 million release clause is met. From The Evening Standard:
“He is in focus because of his achievements in the Champions League. Many big clubs are buzzing around him, We promised Hakim that we would agree if there is a good transfer,” Overmars told the Dutch De Telegraaf newspaper.
Ziyech has played his entire career in the Dutch Eredivisie between Heerenveen, Twente, and Ajax. He has 12 goals in 23 caps for Morocco and scored five times for Ajax in the Champions League to go with 16 league goals.
He has almost 10,000 first team minutes for Ajax despite not turning 20 until August. De Ligt has 15 caps for the Netherlands national team, scoring once, and pairing with Virgil Van Dijk could not only help his continued growth but would also give Liverpool one of the best center back pairings in the world.
Ajax will be rubbing its hands together in anticipation of a proper bidding war as the fight for De Ligt may last for some time.
Jordan Pickford is still Everton’s No. 1, but the Toffees will have insurance should the England keeper dip in form or go adventuring again.
That’s thanks to Huddersfield Town’s release of Jonas Lossl, who was outstanding in 2017-18 and just a bit less so this season as the Terriers were unable to keep their Premier League status.
Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar has spoken after the Dutch club’s shocking late defeat to Tottenham in the Champions League semifinals, and said he believes the end is near for 19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt at his boyhood club.
According to the Ajax chief executive, de Ligt is most likely to move to a big club in Spain or England. Speaking to Sky Sports Italia as quoted by Goal.com, van der Sar said, “I think these will be De Ligt’s final games with Ajax, but I hope he goes out on a high. He’s been here since he was a child and will end up at a big club. I think he’ll go to England or Spain.”
De Ligt has set all kinds of marks at his young age, adding to his value this summer. He is the youngest ever in Ajax history to reach 100 appearances for the club, a crowning achievement given Ajax’s history as a developer of young talent. He is the club’s youngest-ever captain, and the first defender ever to win the Golden Boy award for Europe’s best player under 21 years old.
The 19-year-old has been linked to the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Juventus over the past month or two, and his future remains wide open. The team that seems to make the most sense would be Barcelona, where his current Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong is already confirmed to be headed at the end of the season. The Barcelona back line is in serious flux, with 32-year-old Gerard Pique seemingly starting to decline, while Samuel Umtiti struggled with injuries and Clement Lenglet failed to consistently perform.
Manchester City is always a player for top talent with the money it possesses, and they could look to de Ligt to replace an aging Vincent Kompany, but he may not want to compete with fellow youngsters in John Stones and Aymeric Laporte for playing time. Manchester United could absolutely use a defender of de Ligt’s youth and caliber, but their lack of Champions League play could put them at a disadvantage. Liverpool would love to have an international teammate to partner with fellow Dutchman Virgil Van Dijk, especially with injuries decimating the back line this season which left Joel Matip as a consistent starter.
The one team shattered by this statement would be Juventus, who would be considered a major player with Giorgio Chiellini now at 34 years old and Leonardo Bonucci at 32. Also not helping Juve is de Ligt’s agent Mino Raiola being given a three-month transfer ban in Italy, which would cover this summer’s window. Raiola said he is appealing.
Van der Sar also said the club will do its best to keep head coach Erik ten Hag, with the former Bayern reserve boss now a wanted man after the Champions League run. “We intend to keep hold of Ten Hag, that is our intention,” van der Sar said. “We know there will be a lot of changes within the squad, but we’d at least like to confirm the coaching staff.”
Much of this will have to wait until the season concludes, as Ajax continues to battle for the Eredivisie title as well as the KNVB Beker trophy to wipe away the tears of the Champions League collapse.
Sometimes the football gods show us something special, something that gives us hope even in the face of unimaginable agony. Not necessarily the hope we wanted, but the hope we needed. Hope for the future that somehow touches us even though we are not directly connected.
As we watched a bold young Ajax side make a stunning run through the Champions League, there was a swagger about them that allowed neutral fans to connect with a hidden passion. This team would win, they would do it their way, and they would do it against the best in the world. Every fan likes to watch the giants fall, if done with confidence and gall and poise.
A squad that features a 19-year-old captain, a 23-year-old goalkeeper, a 22-year-old attacking wizard, and a 21-year-old midfield anchor was lighting up the best teams in the world on the biggest stage at the most famous grounds on the planet, and through it all they would not be moved from their creed.
Ultimately, it cost them everything as Spurs galavanted to one of the most stunning comebacks Europe has ever seen in its most prestigious club competition. As Jose Mourinho – who himself completed the feat with Porto in 2004 and again with Inter in 2010 – said after the match, “Sometimes you even need to go against your philosophy to win a football match…but they stuck with their philosophy, they played the game in the second half like they were playing Vitesse in the Dutch league. They played like it was a group phase game, or one more game in their own league.”
What Mourinho doesn’t realize is, that was exactly what made Ajax so special. Their best was better than anyone else’s best this year, with maybe only Liverpool coming close. They beat Real Madrid on the road, Juventus on the road, and Tottenham on the road by sticking with their philosophy, and it added to their mystique. These were kids who wouldn’t be bullied by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Robert Lewandowski, or any of the other stars they matched up against. They would win their own swashbuckling way, or they’d die trying. They stared giants in the face, and slayed one after another, until like Boromir they took one too many arrows to the chest. But they would not be moved.
As the second half of Wednesday’s match continued and the visitors at Johan Cruyff Arena grew in confidence, Ajax could have bunkered in and looked to defend knowing one more Spurs goal would do them in. Instead, they played as they have all season, attacking at every opportunity. Despite Spurs pouring forward in relentless and desperate fashion, the hosts had five shots in the final 20 minutes – including three in the final 10 minutes – while defending the lead. Hakim Ziyech missed a 62nd minute effort that came agonizingly close to killing off the game – a goal which would have changed the narrative completely – and also had a 78th minute chance go just wide.
This is who they are, and manager Erik ten Hag would not stray from that mentality, even as Spurs scored one, then two, then three to complete the comeback. He had captured lightning in a bottle with some of the best young talent in Europe all together on the field, and so far no one had been able to out-football them. As Ziyech, Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek, David Neres, and Matthijs de Ligt carved up some of the best players in the world with a stunning attacking flow, it was clear that they were tactically superior to their opponents, who were seemingly blindsided that their talent could be matched in such a way.
What this young team gave fans around the world is hope – hope that they too could be a part of something special someday, that lightning in a bottle is not just for Leicester City and its miracle run from seemingly nowhere. No, this type of hope is different than that. A true investment in young talent pays off every so often, and if the stars align just right, anyone can produce what Ajax has gifted the world. This was a calculated process, a system that created a beautiful product that wasn’t just a season of overachievement based on hard work and good management, but instead a base of truly world-class talent at a young age. A process that not only brought Ajax seconds from the Champions League final, but one that will pay off this summer in what surely will culminate in a massive financial windfall for the club.
That is what makes this end to the run so heartbreaking – the Ajax squad will surely be picked apart this summer, and while Edwin van der Sar will do his best to take a balanced approach to the coming transfer window, it will be difficult for the Dutch side to fend off the European vultures. But that is part of the team’s identity – as they progressed through bigger and bigger challenges, and each player’s transfer value grew, they knew the end was near. This was their one and only shot together. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain each time they stepped foot on the pitch, and it showed.
Ajax gave fans around the world hope that with the right mentality, with the right process, a club can stick to its guns and not only recall memories of its great history, but create new moments in time, ones that will shock the world. They may have fallen just short of true glory, but this run should be remembered because it was a story of success through process, one that proves anyone belongs in this great tournament if they earn it.