It is refreshing to hear De Ligt discuss his game and to listen to his analysis. It is easy to forget that he was still 19 when he moved to Turin, cutting ties with the club he joined as a nine-year-old and all he has known in football up to now. It is soon clear that he has come to Italy with an open mind and is eager to learn.
“It is important to know for yourself if you’re mentally right; if you’re ready, nobody can stop you,” he says. “That is the thing that I started to realise and that is good also: to take a step back and see things that maybe you can improve. That is what I do. What I am saying is that mental ability is really important for defenders.”
That desire to learn, to evolve, served him well at Jong Ajax. “Until I was 15, I was an attacking midfielder,” he says. “I played a lot in midfield, scored some goals, provided assists, and then suddenly they told 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 as a midfielder is helping me. So, I’m really happy that this was the development I had to go through. Since the emergence of that Barcelona team, the ‘tiki-taka’ team, everybody has wanted to play from the back. And to play from the back, you need defenders who are good with the ball. That’s why technical ability is really important in my role.”