Matthijs de Ligt joined Bayern from Juventus in summer 2022 and promptly won his third national title in his career with the 2022/23 Bundesliga crown.. - © Alexander Scheuber/Bundesliga
Matthijs de Ligt joined Bayern from Juventus in summer 2022 and promptly won his third national title in his career with the 2022/23 Bundesliga crown.. - © Alexander Scheuber/Bundesliga
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Matthijs de Ligt: 10 things on the Bayern Munich and Netherlands centre-back

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From defensive prodigy to full-blown superstar, Matthijs de Ligt has already achieved so much in the game. bundesliga.com traces the life and times of the 24-year-old Bayern Munich and Netherlands centre-back...

Data correct as of 3 June 2024

1) He comes from good stock

Although born in the province of Leiderdorp, De Ligt moved from the south west of Holland to its capital at just nine years old in order to join Ajax's famed academy. One of the most revered footballing schools on the planet, it has produced, among others, players such as Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Christian Eriksen and Frenkie de Jong.

The impact of the Ajax academy was significant on De Ligt and he told The Guardian that he continues to carry its teachings with him today. "The discipline to work hard, to be nice to people, to have respect," he said of the values he learned there. "They’re big on education at Ajax, and that’s something I still take with me everywhere I go."

De Ligt captained Ajax to the 2018/19 Eredivisie title, in what was a memorable year for the club. - Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Image

2) The Golden Boy

De Ligt may not quite be the Messiah, but he is a very Golden Boy. Aged just 19, he succeeded Kylian Mbappe as the 2018 Golden Boy, beating the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold to the trophy and becoming the first defender to ever win the prize. France Football handed him the Kopa Trophy as the best U21 player on the planet a year later and De Ligt remained grounded despite expectations soaring.

"There was a lot of things coming at me at a young age. A lot of talking. Every little mistake became something really big. But the most important thing is to see the big picture," he later said in his aforementioned interview with The Guardian. "When you win the Golden Boy [award], that gives some pressure. But as a player, you have to love the pressure. Because it says you are something good. Seeing it this way gives me some space in my head."

Watch: The best of Matthijs de Ligt

3) Record breaker - Part I

It's little wonder De Ligt was being showered in praise and accolades from a young age, after all he had broken a number of records before being crowned the most exciting young player on the continent.

He became Ajax's youngest-ever full debutant when he started against Willem II in a cup match just a month and nine days after his 17th birthday, and marked the occasion by finding the back of the net after just 25 minutes. At the time that made De Ligt the club's second youngest scorer behind just Clarence Seedorf, and he went on to be the youngest player to captain Ajax and to lead any team in a UEFA Champions League knockout match when he took the armband against none other than record European conquerors Real Madrid at 19 years and 186 days old in February 2019.

4) Record breaker - Part II

De Ligt also took the record for the youngest player to ever feature in a European final when he started against Manchester United in the 2018 UEFA Europa League final at the age of 17 years and 285 days. He then went on to reach 100 appearances for Ajax at a younger age than any other player and his long list of record-breaking efforts didn't stop at club level.

Handed his senior debut for the Netherlands against Bulgaria in 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying, De Ligt became his country's youngest full debutant and youngest player to represent the nation since 1931. He has gone on to collect 44 caps for the Oranje and started the final as Netherlands lost to Portugal in the inaugural UEFA Nations League in 2019. He scored his second goal for his country against England in the semi-finals, while he opened his Netherlands account against Germany in March that same year. EURO 2024 is his third major tournament after EURO 2020 and the 2022 World Cup. 

De Ligt (l.) has joined up with Serge Gnabry (r.) at Bayern, having previously met on the international stage. - ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images

5) The line of succession

Bayern's Dutch connection dates all the way back to Dr. Willem Hesselink, who moved to Bavaria in 1901 and went on to represent the club as a player, coach and as its president.

Since then, Martin Jol, Jan Wouters, Roy Makaay, Mark van Bommel, Arjen Robben, Edson Braafheid and Joshua Zirkzee have all played for Bayern. With De Ligt joining along with former Ajax teammate Ryan Gravenberch in the ranks, the pair swelled the tally to double figures before Gravenberch departed for Liverpool in summer 2023.

6) He could have been a midfielder...

Now well known as one of the premier centre-backs in the game, De Ligt could well have been plying his trade further forward - in the centre of midfield for both club and country.

"Until I was 15, I was an attacking midfielder," he explained to UEFA.com. "I played a lot in midfield, I scored some goals, gave some assists, and then suddenly they said to me it would be better for my career to go one position back, to centre-back. At the beginning, I was thinking: 'I don’t like being a defender,' but now I’m starting to realise that the way I was brought up like a midfielder is helping me. So I’m really happy that this was the development I had to go through."

7) And he dreamed of being Cristiano Ronaldo

With that in mind, it may not be the biggest surprise that young(er) De Ligt once channelled Cristiano Ronaldo rather than Franz Beckenbauer or Mats Hummels in childhood kickabouts.

As he recalled in an interview with Dutch outlet VI: "I always wanted to be Cristiano Ronaldo when we were playing football in the garden. That was especially in his time when he played at Manchester United. My first football shirt also belonged to him from that time."

There have indeed been some stunning moments when De Ligt showcased his attacking technique in a Bayern shirt in spectacular fashion. A thunderous drive against Freiburg in April 2023 earned him Bayern's Goal of the Month award while a sublime volleyed assist against Lazio in the UEFA Champions League last 16 in March 2024 saw comparisons raised to Marco Van Basten. 

Watch: De Ligt sinks stunning strike as Bayern beat Freiburg in 2022/23

8) But he’s a defensive purist...

Clearly, all that work in midfield and ability on the ball has come in handy for De Ligt and he has developed in to a Rolls Royce centre-back, with all the tools at his disposal to spearhead the modern footballing revolution. But don't let that fool you, he loves getting his hands dirty, too.

"The dirty work is so important," he said to The Guardian. "People call it dirty, but I find it really nice. To head the ball away, to win duels. I’m quite an old-school defender in that way. You have a lot of defenders now who just stay in position, cover the spaces. But I also like to defend one-on-one, battle against the opponent."

9) And he's learned from the very best

As you can see from Ajax's desire to play young players in different positions, De Ligt's ability to combine the Old School with the New is no accident and there is further evidence in his most recent playing partners. Not only does De Ligt play alongside Virgil van Dijk for his country, but he had legendary Italian duo Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini for company at Juve. It's some pedigree for De Ligt to be learning from, as the player himself recognises.

"Virgil is a player who has experience in the top leagues and, of course, you would want to learn from him. It’s very helpful playing alongside him in the Dutch team," he was quoted by Goal as saying, while he added to The Guardian: "Giorgio is now 37. And right now he plays like he is reading a book."

De Ligt (l.) was partnered with iconic Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini (r.) at Juventus. - IMAGO / Gribaudi/ImagePhoto

10) He loves to win

De Ligt has had to deal with high expectations throughout his entire young career and it's easy to forget that he's still just 23. And his ability to deal with those pressures and demands for success is standing him in good stead at Bayern where, like in Turin, success is not just desired, it is demanded.

The Dutch dynamite defender won the Bundesliga title in his first season with the Bavarians, 2022/23, to add to his league and cup winners' medals in both Holland and Italy.

"The most important thing for me is to win," he said. "At Juventus, if we win 1-0 and play bad, honestly I think everybody will still be happy. And if you play amazing and lose 2-1, you’re not happy. Every team has a certain DNA, that’s different in every club."

Some 53 appearances into his Bayern career, De Ligt has shown with his defensive drive and five goals just how determined he is to succeed.