Matthijs de Ligt: I like the way Bayern see football
© Photos: Markus Burke
Matthijs de Ligt learned to take responsibility at a young age. He studied the history of Ajax, developed at Juventus, and now - as he reveals in his interview with members' magazine '51' - is in a team with 11 Cristiano Ronaldos at FC Bayern.
Interview with Matthijs de Ligt
Matthijs, Sadio Mane celebrated with the fans in the stands after the 6-1 win at the start of the season in Frankfurt - will you also be seen up there one day?
(laughs) "I don't know, but I thought it was cool that Sadio did that. He had played a great game, scored a goal, was very happy and wanted to share that with the fans. It makes every football fan's heart swell - mine too. But I'm concentrating on my performance for now. Then we'll see whether I climb the fence."
You are said to be the vocal type - does that refer more to on the pitch?
"Yes. Off the pitch, I'm someone who likes to be with his colleagues and talk - but overall I'm more of a reserved person. I like to observe, and if I think I have to say something, then I do. But I don't have to be permanently on air for that. On the pitch, on the other hand, I try to communicate as much as possible to give stability."
To outsiders, you look like an experienced 30-year-old player - but you're 23...
"I think I developed early on and, unlike others, I've been lucky enough to play for many years with seasoned professionals who have enormous experience. I was able to learn and adapt a lot early on, at Ajax, in the Dutch national team and then at Juventus. Players like [Giorgio] Chiellini, [Leonardo] Bonucci, Cristiano Ronaldo or [Gianluigi] Buffon are 10, 12, 13 years older, and I took my cue from those characters. Maybe I'm more mature than other 22-year-olds, but I don't see that as something special."
Your parents were hockey and tennis players. Has sport been an important part of your life from an early age?
"Yes, very much. I did judo, played hockey, tennis and football - football even last. It's a funny story. At first I didn't like football at all. It just didn't interest me that much. I never watched games either. I kicked a ball for the first time when I was six years old - quite late. From that moment on, I was in love. Every day it was all about football. We played at school, after school, at the club, and then I also started wanting to know everything about the players, about the big names. I was on hooked on all things football."
For example, you have also read books about Ajax ...
"When I was 16, I started to find out about the history of Ajax. My agent at the time, Barry Hulshoff, who unfortunately died, played at Ajax with Johan Cruyff. He gave me the book 60 Years of Ajax. I devoured it and now know all about the history from before I was even born. It was very inspiring. In my eyes, it's important to know the DNA of a club. Juventus has a very different culture than Ajax, that was also very interesting, and now I'm at Bayern, one of the biggest clubs in the world with an incredible history. I'm excited to learn, absorb and live the philosophy of FC Bayern."
What does the DNA of FC Bayern mean to you?
"For me, the DNA of FC Bayern means discipline, hard work and victories. I see these three core values when I look at FC Bayern on the pitch. Off the pitch, the club stands for a big family, tradition and social responsibility. On the pitch, there are some parallels with Ajax. Both clubs always want to play offensively, with Bayern being even more disciplined. I followed the club on TV when Arjen Robben and Mark van Bommel reached the final of the Champions League under Louis van Gaal in 2010, or in 2013 when Bayern won the Champions League under Jupp Heynckes, and when they played fantastic football under Pep Guardiola. Winning the Champions League in 2020 was also spectacular. I like the way they play here and the way they see football. It has been a pleasure to watch Bayern for many years."
The great Johan Cruyff certainly played a big role in the book 60 Years of Ajax.
"Yes, but unfortunately I never met him in person - that would have been a big dream of mine. I joined the first team at Ajax in the summer of 2016 and he'd passed away a few months before. It's a great pity that I never met him, because he had a great influence and was an inspiring person."
What was it like being the youngest captain in Ajax history?
"It wasn't difficult because the older players helped me. Veteran players like Dusan Tadic, Lasse Schöne or Daley Blind could also have been captain, and they were to a certain extent even without the armband, but the coach had chosen me for this job because he wanted to give me even more responsibility. I quickly felt comfortable with it because I was already a guy who likes to lead the way. I like having the responsibility. For me, it feels good. It doesn't make me nervous."
How do you deal with older teammates?
"At Ajax, I immediately felt the trust of the others, they understood that this decision was good for the team and no one said, 'Oh, why is the 19-year-old being given so much responsibility?' I don't think any sure formula exists. You always have to find a way for the team - even as captain you are never a lone wolf. You only solve tasks as a team, always together. As captain, I never see myself as different from the other players. You are part of the team despite or even with the armband. It's important that the community works. That's the only way to solve everything."
At Juventus, you joined a team full of world stars as a young player.
"It was a good experience because I learned a lot not only as a footballer but also as a person. When you see these champions every day, how they train and take care of their bodies, how they perform ... It motivates you immensely. I am grateful and happy that I was allowed to play there for three years. Cristiano Ronaldo's hunger particularly stood out. He's won everything, several Ballon d'Ors, the Champions League five times and every major championship he's played in - but he still has that greed in him, like he's a 19-year-old who's just started his career."
Do you also feel this greed at FC Bayern? The club is used to winning titles and you always have to stay hungry as a player here.
"Of course. Bayern have won the title 10 years in a row, but they don't stop. The way they train here, guys like Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich, Kingsley Coman, everyone who has played here for a long time and won at least six or seven titles, that is more than impressive. They set a good example for the rest of the team that you have to be like that to win. You can feel here every day that they are desperate for the 11th title in a row as well."
So are there 11 Cristiano Ronaldos here?
"With this central trait of always wanting more - sure, yes! The great strength here is this Bayern mentality, this permanent striving for perfection and this will to always work on oneself. That's something that particularly distinguishes this team and this club as a whole."
Do you know who's referred to as the 'Guiding Light' in Germany?
"Yes, of course. I told you earlier that I know a lot about football history. Franz Beckenbauer is considered the best defender in the world. He's not missing from any top XI in football history. I have seen many videos of him. Those were very different times, of course, but I still like to see his way of playing football. He played in an incredibly successful Bayern team back then that won the European Cup three times in a row. He is a legend and a great inspiration."
As a central defender with a long-term contract, you could become the new Beckenbauer here...
(laughs) "I would never compare myself to Franz Beckenbauer, that would be wrong. But let's put it this way: he played very long and very successfully for FC Bayern and won many, many titles. That is also my goal."