sport news How De Ligt went from 'too slow' to football's most in-demand defender

Within the congested factory of footballing talent that is Ajax's youth academy, it was obvious to most that Matthijs de Ligt would be special when he was just 14 years old.

He already seemed to have a lifetime of football intelligence at his disposal as well as the technical ability and composure to match. De Ligt fast became the standout player in a system littered with quality prospects.

Towering above his classmates and built like a war machine, Ajax's coaches quickly realised there was no need to waste time in his development.

Ajax star Matthijs de Ligt is currently the most in-demand defender in world football

Ajax star Matthijs de Ligt is currently the most in-demand defender in world football

DE LIGT'S STATS 18/19

Games played: 55

Games started: 53

Minutes played: 4,848

Goals: Seven

Passes: 3,337

Passing accuracy: 89.3 per cent

Tackles: 56

Interceptions: 59

Recoveries: 352

Duel success: 62.6 per cent

Clean sheets: 23

Errors leading to goals: One 

'Matthijs was biologically mature at the age of 14,' youth coach Ruben Jongkind recently told Sportsmail.

'Normally the U15 coach would use him in every match. If you want to stop the strikers from scoring, Matthijs would be in your defence. 

'But that is not good for Matthijs. We had to move up him up two years to give him the right stimuli.

'When he was in the U15s he played for the U17s. When he was in the U16s he played for the U19s.

'He would be a centre back in the future but he needed to be challenged over his speed of action. If you play a youth match and you are the best but you play centre back, you play too slowly.

'We put him in midfield. He needed to play with 360 degrees around him and find solutions in small spaces. We knew when he played centre back later he would get into these situations.

'Despite the fact he was very young his movement skills were not up to the level. He didn't run well. Also his agility, stability and mobility had to improve. We worked hard on that with a specialised plan.'

There were initially some concerns over De Ligt's physique but they were quickly quashed

There were initially some concerns over De Ligt's physique but they were quickly quashed

De Ligt pictured battling Chelsea's Tammy Abraham during a UEFA Youth League game in 2016

De Ligt pictured battling Chelsea's Tammy Abraham during a UEFA Youth League game in 2016

De Ligt was roughly eight-years-old when his local team in Abcoude, a small town five miles away from Ajax's stadium, raised the alarm that they had something special.

When a scout raced out of Amsterdam to watch him for the first time there were concerns about his physique and body type though. However, a quick glance down the touchline at his slim and lean father put their scout's mind at ease according to Dutch writer Henk Spaan.

De Ligt quickly climbed through the junior ranks and reaped the rewards of the club's overhauled youth system led by

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