Tennis, obesity, records: how the “normal boy” Matthijs de Ligt became the leader of a generation

As a child he preferred to play tennis than soccer, and later he had to struggle with being overweight. At 17, Matthijs de Ligt suddenly became a national player.

Abcoude is a monotonous place. Everything about this sparsely populated suburb southeast of Amsterdam is oozing with dismal normalcy. Be it the Gothic village church, the landscape traversed by windy canals and cold rivers or the kilometer-long bike paths. Anyone looking for excitement and adventure will benefit from the small train station, which offers a direct connection to the neighboring metropolis. And from the famous Johan Cruyff Arena, which is only ten minutes away. It is the optimal place to start the Matthijs de Ligt’s journey.

He tied his football boots for the first time at the local FC Abcoude at the age of six, was discovered by Ajax Amsterdam at an early age, was promoted to an exceptional professional team at the age of 17 and, as the youngest captain in club history, led the club to the renaissance of the successful Voetbal Totaal and to the glory and glory of times that were believed to be lost . Regardless of his adolescence, he rises to be the bearer of hope and the leading figure of a proud football nation.

Experts, scientists and former top performers actually agree: In order to be a leader in a sporting group, constant top performance, accumulated experience and an associated age are the most important characteristics. Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Zidane, Kahn, they all grew in the course of their careers into their formative roles, with which they are still associated years after their career has ended.

The then 19-year-old teenager de Ligt, on the other hand, skipped a few steps up this career ladder. The leadership role as the starting point of a career. A little later, with his transfer to Juventus Turin, made him the most expensive defender in Europe. To find out how he did it, it’s worth taking a look back at the beginning – and into the idyllic but simple Abcoude.

Soccer? De Ligt preferred to play tennis as a child

Matthijs was one year old when the de Ligt family moved from their home town of Leiderdorp to near Amsterdam because of their father’s work. Brother Wouter and sister Fleur, today excellent soccer players themselves, are born as twins, the three siblings have a deep bond right away, their parents play hockey and tennis. Abcoude offers plenty of space and nature for children to explore, school is okay, but sometimes alone in the children’s room.

Suburban living. Nobody in the family has anything to do with soccer. Classmates of the same age chase after the balls, Matthijs de Ligt prefers to play tennis and board games. He is a friendly, humble boy who does not have high expectations for a happy childhood and prefers to avoid attention.

At the age of six, however, de Ligt also packs it. It was more or less by chance that he accompanied a friend to training and discovered his enthusiasm for the game. He turns out to be more of a greenhorn than a super talent. But as enormously hardworking, receptive and willing to learn. “Matthijs was very reserved, sometimes a little naive,” recalls his youth coach Dave van Nielen in the Dutch newspaper AD, “just a good kid.”

“The first time I touched a ball, it flew in all directions,” remembers de Ligt to the daily newspaper Het Parool himself. To put it mildly, van Nielen has to be content with a solid foundation at best. What immediately catches the eye, however, is the physical superiority. “Even at six he was much bigger and stronger than everyone else,” says Robert van der Hoef, another youth coach, the French football magazine So Foot. It helps the defender to assert himself against older age groups and to assert himself despite his shy character.

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