Matthijs de Ligt seems to be on the verge of joining PSG.
The centre-back, who has been courted by basically every single elite side across Europe for the last few months, appeared to be close to signing for Barcelona earlier in the Spring, but now reports are emerging that PSG have gazumped their 6-1 tormentors by snaring the young defender, getting revenge for when the Blaugrana snagged Frenkie de Jong from under their noses in January.
Obviously nothing has been confirmed yet, but all news (including transfer guru Gianluca Di Marzio) indicates that a switch to the French capital is the path De Ligt has chosen. This is sure to be a controversial transfer, and it leaves us with several questions.
1. What does this mean for PSG?
This would be a huge coup for PSG, which sounds absurd for the club that has Neymar and Kylian Mbappé on their books and more money than sense. But consider that PSG are still a new club in terms of the top table of European football; Real Madrid won six European Cups before they were even founded. And even those big deals were completed in strange ways. They got Neymar via the release clause, cutting Barça out of the loop entirely, and Real Madrid seemed to decline a challenge to secure Kylian Mbappé as well.
Sure, PSG can hold onto a player like nobody else (see: Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and especially Marco Verratti who has seen both Barcelona and Real Madrid try to prise him away only to come up empty handed) but when it comes to recruitment they’re often second-best to other big sides. Look at Frenkie de Jong: PSG offered more money but the Dutchman rejected them to join Barcelona.
Now, for the first-time, they have well and truly beaten out not just one but a whole host of elite sides to secure a world star. If PSG have this kind of pull now then the world will have to wake up to a grim reality that there is no club that can compete with the French Champions in the transfer market, not even Spain’s juggernauts.
2. Is De Ligt who we thought he was?
After they won the domestic double, Matthijs de Ligt gave a very rousing speech in front of his teammates to a massive crowd of Ajax fans. In it he praised the legacy of Ajax’s style of play and the debt they owe Johan Cruyff. He very much looked like a player who “got it.”
Hell, his style of play, an elegant battering ram (if such a thing could exist), already endeared him to everyone. But the speech really sealed it. Here was a 19-year-old who was so mature and commanding he could give a rousing speech in front of a massive crowd of players and every single person bought into it. No one figured it for nonsense or him to be cringe. He was the real deal.
But what if he picks PSG and their colossal financial offer over a whole host of “proper” football clubs? Remember, if he joins PSG it means he’s (reportedly) rejected Barcelona, Liverpool and Juventus. That’s three of the biggest, most historic clubs in the world. One could argue he’s been enticed by PSG’s “project” but that project is little more than “win the Champions League please,” so really, it’s the money.
How could a kid who gets it so much be so motivated by money? Does that mean De Ligt isn’t the (young) man we thought he was? It’s entirely possible. However it’s also possible that the only club he truly loves is Ajax and if he’s going to leave them, it’ll be to someone who will pay him and play him. Hard to argue with that.
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3. Who will Ajax turn to?
So Ajax will have lost their captain and the heart of their defence, what do they do? They’ll have plenty of cash but it wouldn’t be very Ajax of them to just go out and bring in an expensive recruit. Not that their wage structure could support one of those anyway.
True to form, Ajax already have their preferred replacement. Eighteen months ago, Ajax sign Perr Schuurs from Fortuna Sittard. The young Dutch defender is basically a De Ligt clone, standing 6’3 and possessing an impressive aerial ability, he should slot in and develop nicely.
And just as added insurance, Ajax have also snapped by Argentine defender Lisandro Magallán from Boca Juniors. This is a very savvy move from the Dutch Champions as they’ve already had success with Argentines (e.g. Nico Tagliafico) and the 26-year-old Magallán provides instant quality and will allow Schuurs to be eased into place.
4. Where next for Barcelona?
Unlike De Jong, Barcelona didn’t have a burning need to sign De Ligt. They already have four centre-backs: Gerard Piqué, Samuel Umtiti, Clement Lenglet and Jean-Clair Todibo. Piqué is the veteran leader, Umtiti is an elite partner provided his knee is alright, Lenglet has proven himself a capable starter and Todibo is a hot prospect.
So if De Ligt was to come in, someone would have to leave to make room. This was seen as a risk worth taking given that De Ligt is probably going to be the best centre-back in the world in a few years, so signing him now was securing a colossal talent and allowing him time to settle in before he takes over for the 32-year-old Gerard Piqué as the new leader of Barcelona’s defence.
But if De Ligt goes to PSG, what do Barcelona do? Well despite concerns about Umtiti’s knee, the answer is probably an underwhelming “nothing” – there is no prospect comparable to De Ligt out there, and thus no point in signing another centre-back when one isn’t needed. Just strap Umtiti’s knee up, use him sparingly, and trust that Todibo will develop as fast as his “new Varane” tag suggests he will.
5. How could PSG line up?
Here’s the thing: PSG already have two exceptional centre-backs in Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe. They also have a capable back-up in Thilo Kehrer and immense veteran Thiago Silva. Add De Ligt to that and what do you get? A team that is built to play 3-5-2.
You deploy De Ligt at the heart of defence, making him the rock around which it is built. Ahead of them Leandro Paredes and Marco Verratti run midfield with Angel di Maria (soon to be Philippe Coutinho if you believe the rumours) operating as the most advanced of the midfield, driving forward to aid attack. Out wide you have Dani Alves and Juan Bernat, providing the width for the biog two up-top.
Neymar and Kylian Mbappé are a superb two-man strikeforce, so why not just play them as one? Edinson Cavani would be an incredible rotation option, or PSG could offload him to ease their FFP burden and simply use their multitude of attacking midfielders (remember Julian Draxler?) to back up Neymar and Mbappé. Either way this team would play at a furious pace, pure Tuchel-ball.