Why PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid want Ajax's Matthijs de Ligt, Hakim Ziyech, David Neres and Donny van de Beek

Alex Rea 20/06/2019
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Ajax players

Davinson Sanchez (€40 million), Arkadiusz Milik (€32m), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (€27m), Davy Klaassen (€27m) and Wesley Sneijder (€27m) occupy the top-five Ajax sales of all time, and all could be dislodged in one summer.

Once Frenkie de Jong’s €75m switch to Barcelona is transacted on July 1 the 22-year-old will move into the No1 slot, yet he may even be surpassed, or at the very least joined in the top positions if rumours turn to truth.

The captain, Matthijs de Ligt, will definitely depart for a similar fee and beyond him there is David Neres, Donny van de Beek and Hakim Ziyech capturing the gaze of Europe’s vultures.

But where will they go and what type of talents are being mined from the Dutch giants?

Matthijs de Ligt

Age – 19

Position – Centre-back

Clubs linked to – PSG, Barcelona, Man United, Man City and Juventus

Price tag – €75 million

It makes sense De Ligt’s reputation has witnessed a growth spurt given how physically developed he already is.

Age really is just a number where the centre-back is concerned and his athletic gifts have given him a platform to evolve mentally as well, now he’s surpassed 100+ appearances for Ajax.

Experience shapes understanding, and although De Ligt is just 19 years old, he can’t really be compared to players in his age group because he’s been operating as a senior starter since he was 17.

Even ranking him against defenders in their mid-20s, De Ligt still comes out on top, though. A natural leader and organiser, the Netherlands defender possesses poise on the ball, a fearless disposition and of course powerful aerial prowess in both boxes.

And it’s these qualities combined with the years ahead of him which has attracted practically every top European club.

Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain are the two leading the pack, the latter reportedly the choice of his agent Mino Raiola, the Catalan giants said to be the Dutchman’s personal preference.

His situation mirrors that of his friend and former colleague De Jong who was central to a tug-of-war between PSG and Barca.

De Ligt’s in the airport, it remains to be seen whether he is boarding a flight to Paris or Barcelona.

Hakim Ziyech

Age – 26

Position – Midfielder/right winger

Clubs linked to – Arsenal, Liverpool, Sevilla, Roma and Bayern Munich

Price tag – €35 million

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The transfer market has lost its collective mind and the fact Ziyech is available for €35m makes sense for plenty of teams, although it kind of doesn’t given how that fee is not reflective of his talent.

The reason for the modest price is because of a gentleman’s release clause with Ajax after a move to Roma last summer collapsed when the Serie A giants opted instead to sign Javier Pastore.

That worked out well…

Ajax profited as the mercurial playmaker was again outstanding last season with his sauce garnishing the Eredivisie and Europe.

Curiously, the elite aren’t really strongly linked and Ziyech is content to remain at Ajax if an attractive suitor does not emerge.

He’s picky, but has every right to be, and it’s conceivable that the Morocco international will be in Amsterdam for 2019/20.

However, according to respected Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, Arsenal and Liverpool are top contenders with teams in Spain, Italy and Germany – assumed to be Sevilla, Roma and Bayern Munich – also interested.

And Ziyech is an enticing proposition for all. The midfielder, whether operating deeper or wide right, possesses an excellent range of passing, footwork in tight spaces and goalscoring ability off either foot, all now wedded to an unbelievable work rate.

He wants to be the author of a game and few script better tales.

David Neres

Age – 22

Position – Attacking midfielder

Clubs linked to – Everton, Liverpool and PSG

Price tag – €70-80 million

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Ajax’s money bags are filled to the brim through the sales of De Ligt and De Jong.

That financial assurance places them in a position of strength, which means stripping another of their jewels will come at a premium.

Determining the true value of players is difficult to decipher in this market, and so the Dutch giants can demand an exponential fee for someone like Neres.

The 22-year-old winger is a player they don’t want to leave, but if a club is prepared to part with between €70-80 million then it’s an offer which can’t be refused, so says De Telegraaf.

Is the Brazilian worth it right now? Probably not, but he’s worth what teams are willing to pay for him.

Everton are desperate to pair him with Richarlison. The two would form a twin Samba wing force with Neres deployed on the left. He’s still raw, but his gripping displays against Real Madrid in the Champions League, plus the contribution to 25 goals in the league, suggests a luminous talent.

Not quite the cubed diamond yet, but there’s plenty of dazzle about the way he approaches the game.

He would fare better from at least another year of refinement at Ajax by adding consistency to his list of expressive traits.

Donny van de Beek

Age – 22

Position – Midfielder

Clubs linked to – Tottenham, Man United, Real Madrid and Inter Milan

Price tag – €60 million

There’s an argument to be made that Van de Beek was Ajax’s most impressive performer during their deep run in the Champions League.

Although nominally a centre-midfielder domestically, in Europe the 22-year-old was brilliant in a more advanced role behind the striker.

Against Juventus, Real Madrid and Tottenham – the latter two teams are reportedly interested in signing him – Van de Beek demonstrated his ability, tessellating between a No10 and No8 role, calibrating the midfield and attack with crisp passing.

He has that natural sense of identifying exactly where the opponent is, and a nearby team-mate while being able to stop and also develop counterpresses. His awareness of space with and without the ball, added to these other characteristics, mark him out as a pretty unique playmaker.

It’s a mystery why there isn’t quite the same frenzy for his signature as there is other Ajax players. Perhaps his more subtle talent goes a little unnoticed but he’s certainly a dynamic player.

Whether it’s this summer or next, it’s certain he’ll eventually move on given his calibre and the fact pieces around him have left.

There’s every chance Ajax may convince him to stay with the prospect of captaining the side, though.

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Real Madrid's 2019 pre-season schedule in full as Los Blancos prepare to face Bayern Munich and Arsenal

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Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid side are currently on their holidays after a disappointing season where they finished third in La Liga and crashed out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage.

But when the full squad return for pre-season training on July 10, things will quickly get hectic again as they soon depart on their tour of the United States.

Los Blancos will contest a number of high-profile pre-season friendlies, starting against Bayern Munich in Texas on July 20 before the Whites take on Arsenal three days later in Maryland.

Real will then face La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid in New Jersey on July 26, before rounding off their productive pre-season campaign with a clash against Champions League finalists Tottenham in Munich.

The La Liga fixtures have yet to be announced.

Below are the crucial dates in Real Madrid’s pre-season schedule:

20 July: Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich. NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas

23 July: Real Madrid vs Arsenal. FedExField, Maryland

26 July: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid. MetLife Stadium, New Jersey

30 July: Real Madrid vs Tottenham. Allianz Arena

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Eden Hazard aspires to be a ‘Galactico’ after completing Real Madrid switch

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Eden Hazard believes he has the platform to try and become “the best player in the world” after signing a five-year deal with Real Madrid.

The 28-year-old Belgium forward has completed his 150 million euro move to the Spanish giants from Chelsea after passing a medical in Madrid on Thursday.

Hazard last week revealed joining Real had been a dream of his since childhood and reiterated his desire to win many trophies with the underperforming Blancos, who finished third in La Liga last season and made an early exit from the Champions League, before turning his focus to personal ambitions.

Following a presentation ceremony and a ball-juggling show on the Bernabeu pitch in front of a rapturous 50,000-strong crowd of Real fans, he undertook his first official press conference.

“I’m going to try to become the best player in the world, but first I wanted to be in the best team in the world,” Hazard told reporters. “I’m not a ‘Galactico’ – I hope to be one day – I am Eden Hazard.

“At Real Madrid you have to win as much as possible and hopefully I can write another page in the history of the club.”

Hazard maintained ever since his record-breaking transfer from Chelsea was announced that he was motivated to join Real by a dream shared with his brothers Thorgan and Kylian – now both professional footballers – since their days kicking a ball about in the family garden back in Braine-le-Comte.

But a key secondary motivation was the presence of former France playmaker Zinedine Zidane as head coach at the Bernabeu – the three-time Champions League-winning manager stepped down in May 2018 but returned this March following the miserable tenures of Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari.

Hazard said: “Everyone knows Zidane has been my idol since I was a child, and him being the Madrid boss was an important factor for me coming here.”

He has designs on the 10 shirt – the replica handed to him for official photographs bore a name but no number on Thursday – but joked that current incumbent Luka Modric is not willing to give it up.

“I’ve been lucky enough to talk to Modric through (Chelsea loanee Mateo) Kovacic and asked him to give me number 10 but he said no,” said Hazard. “It’s not important to me, it’s just important to wear the shirt, with this badge on it.”

Following recent setbacks Real appear to be embarking on a major spending spree this summer, adding Lyon left-back Ferland Mendy, Eintracht Frankfurt striker Luka Jovic and Porto defender Eder Militao to their squad, as well as Hazard, now the most expensive ever purchase by the capital club.

The Belgian would not be drawn on rumours that Los Blancos will go back to the Premier League to make a bid for Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, or attempt a raid on Paris St Germain for Kylian Mbappe.

Hazard said: “Pogba and Mbappe are among the best players out there and I want to play with the best, but I’m not the one who decides – we’ll see what’s going to happen in the future.”

Real fans may get their first look at him in action for Real when Los Blancos meet Bayern Munich in an International Champions Cup friendly in Houston on July 21. A game against Arsenal follows in Landover, Maryland three days later.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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