Highly-rated Ajax duo Matthijs de Ligt and Donny van de Beek are keeping their options open amid transfer interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
A memorable season came to a disappointing end for the pair on Sunday evening as Holland lost 1-0 to hosts Portugal in the inaugural Nations League final.
De Ligt and Van de Beek had been hoping to cap a campaign to cherish with more silverware, having played a key role in Ajax’s domestic double and their eye-catching run to the Champions League semi-finals.
The Amsterdam club’s golden crop is now set to be disbanded, with a number of big names looking set to follow Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong in making an exit.
Teenage sensation De Ligt has been strongly linked to Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, but the in-demand defender is in no rush to make a decision.
Asked after the Nations League final what colour shirt he would be wearing next season, the 19-year-old said: “I don’t know. I don’t know.
“Now I am going on vacation and I just take a rest, relax and then I will see.
“When you rest you have enough time to think, so that’s good.”
Press Association Sport understands that the United hierarchy have long expected De Ligt to join Barcelona, where De Jong has already agreed to move.
Cristiano Ronaldo asked the young centre-back if he was joining Juventus after Sunday’s final, while Liverpool and Manchester City have also been mentioned as possible destinations for one of the stars of Ajax’s run to the Champions League semi-finals.
Asked how he reflected on the campaign, De Ligt told Press Association Sport: “I think it was a difficult end to a memorable season.
“I think in the beginning we didn’t expect to reach the final, but we did and if it is a final you want to win it.
“I am not happy that we lost but proud that we came here.”
Ajax team-mate Van de Beek echoed those sentiments after Holland just fell short at the Estadio do Dragao on Sunday night.
The 22-year-old is excited about the future of Dutch football and he too could be on the move this summer.
Reports suggest Van de Beek would be keen to move to Manchester United or Tottenham this summer, while Real Madrid are among the other clubs to be linked with a move.
“My situation is I have a contract with Ajax and I am really happy,” he said.
“You never know what is going to happen in the future but I can say nothing about that.”
Van de Beek was more forthcoming on the situation regarding team-mate De Ligt, with it appearing a matter of when rather than if the defender leaves.
“I’ve known him a long time and he has a big personality,” he said.
“He is a really good guy, a really good player he is a good professional who always trains extra and he is a really good guy.”
Asked if De Ligt may leave, Van de Beek said: “I don’t know.
“A lot of clubs want to buy him, I think so because he is a good player and now he has to choose for himself, where he feels good, he has to go there.”
Hakim Ziyech and Andre Onana are other Ajax players to be linked with an exit as Erik ten Hag’s side looks set to be dismantled – a sad development for the neutral, but one Van de Beek is philosophical about.
“You see that a lot,” he said. “Players go to another country, another competition, that’s normal in Holland, in the Dutch league, you see that a lot of times.”
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Struggling to pick out the facts from the figures? Reality from the rubbish? Sense from the silly season? We’ve got you sorted in our daily dose of the Transfer Predictor, where we round up the latest rumours with an analytical spin.
We sort through the most eye-catching transfer reports of the past 24 hours and give a balanced judgment on whether the move really will happen – and why.
Atletico Madrid -> €125 million (release clause) -> Paris Saint-Germain
After months of speculation that Barcelona will complete the signing of Antoine Griezmann, SPORT have reported that a twist in tale can be expected with PSG entering the picture.
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN
Edinson Cavani is not getting any younger and PSG could do with a player in his prime to help them bury the ghosts of embarrassing Champions League exits.
It might be hard to ignore the call of home – Griezmann could choose the French team over Barcelona out of respect for Atletico and the urge to play in his home country.
WHY IT WON’T HAPPEN
SPORT have been very inconsistent with their transfer rumours and one would definitely think twice before taking their word.
Besides, in Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Griezmann, PSG will have an even more twisted struggle for supremacy between players who want to be the centre of proceedings on their hands. The world saw what happened when Neymar and Cavani clashed. Griezmann would not be the best addition where man-management and player hierarchy is concerned.
Transfer rating: 5/10
Bournemouth -> £40 million -> Tottenham
After finishing runners-up in the Champions League without reinforcing their squad, Spurs could go all out in the summer transfer window. According to the Sun, the list could start with Cherries centre-back Nathan Ake.
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN
With huge doubts cast over the future of Toby Alderweireld at the club, Spurs find themselves needing a centre-back with enough quality to jump straight into the starting line-up.
Ake has impressed at Bournemouth, displaying enough quality to now be in consideration for a starter’s role at a top English club. Experience in the Premier League further strengthens his case for a move to the London side.
WHY IT WON’T HAPPEN
There are no reports of any top clubs vying for the Dutch defender’s signature and the possibility of this deal maturing is theoretically low. And, given his transfer could be conditional to Alderweireld leaving, it’s certainly not set in stone. But, you should always anticipate the unexpected in football.
Transfer predictor: 7/10
Tottenham -> undisclosed -> Manchester United
Christian Eriksen recently admitted that he could leave the Champions League runners-up this transfer window. While Real Madrid are said to be in pole position to acquire his signature, United too are said (the Evening Stadard) to have joined the race after Paul Pogba’s name started appearing in Madrid newspapers.
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN
Should Madrid seal the Pogba signing, United will be clutching at straws to replace him with a world class player. This means that the man in question could receive a massive salary and a key role in the squad rebuild.
Youri Tielemans and Eriksen have been linked to the Red Devils, with the Dane tipped to receive a huge salary boost and other incentives should he choose Old Trafford.
WHY IT WON’T HAPPEN
There are a lot of ‘ifs and buts’ in this transfer. To start with, Eriksen could sign for Madrid, with Pogba staying put at United. Madrid could sign both the players and force United to look for another player.
Eriksen deciding to stay at Spurs can’t be ruled out either, given United would not exactly be an upgrade from the London-based club due to their woes in recent years.
Transfer rating: 3/10
It may not seem like a lot in today’s game, but Daniel James will become the second most expensive Welsh player in football history when his transfer from Swansea City to Manchester United goes through.
The £18million fee agreed between the Red Devils and Swans last week will see James eclipse Joe Allen’s £15m move to Liverpool from the same club in 2012.
There’s still some chasm to the most expensive Welsh player of all time though, with Gareth Bale costing Real Madrid a gargantuan £85m when he swapped Spurs for the Santiago Bernabeu in 2013. The 29-year-old’s transfer remains the eighth most expensive ever.
But who else makes the top 10 most expensive Welsh players? We took a look.
1 GARETH BALE – £85m (Tottenham to Real Madrid, September 2013)
Given Bale’s demise during 2018/19 it can be forgotten just how much he’s achieved in the Spanish capital.
Sure, injuries have pockmarked his six years at the Santiago Bernabeu and last season was blighted by a ruinous run of form that saw him score just 14 goals in 42 total appearances – hardly abysmal but his second worst season’s tally in the famous white shirt.
But the Madridistas are a demanding, unforgiving bunch – just ask Kaka, Javier Saviola and Jonathan Woodgate. And their ire following a failure or refusal to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, plus the debacle of going through three managers during one campaign, was chiefly directed at Bale.
Despite a beaming overall record of 102 goals in 231 games, plus some stunning and vital strikes, Bale’s future beyond this summer at Los Blancos looks bleak.
Hey, if you can’t win the fans over by coming off the bench, scoring a brace to win your club a third successive Champions League crown – including a stunning bicycle kick, one of the greatest the competition has ever seen – what else can you do?
2 DANIEL JAMES – £18m (Swansea City to Man United, June 2019)
The 21-year-old relative unknown won’t be a popular appointment among many United fans who crave huge marquee names after a season of discontent. But the emerging young Welshman is arguably exactly the type of player the Red Devils require – pacey, industrious, eager to make a name for himself and with a high ceiling to reach for.
United’s issue in recent years has been throwing too much money at big names who have let themselves, and the club, down embarrassingly. James enjoyed a breakout season with the Swans – leading them in Championship assists (7) and scoring five goals in 38 games overall – and has broken into Ryan Giggs’ senior Wales squad.
3 JOE ALLEN – £15m (Swansea City to Liverpool, August 2012)
Famously, and perhaps ruinously, hailed as “the Welsh Xavi” after Brendan Rodgers brought the midfield dynamo with him from Swansea to Liverpool in 2012, one of Spanish football’s greats, Allen was not.
And yet, he has nevertheless forged a successful career as a tireless, no-nonsense midfielder able to marry tenacity with stunning vision and impish creativity. He has played an integral role in Wales’ rise on the international stage in recent years, and there remains something comical about the fact the 29-year-old seems happy to waste his talent in England’s second tier, with Stoke.
4 CRAIG BELLAMY – £14m (West Ham to Man City, January 2009)
The man with more clubs than a golf bag – fitting considering he assaulted former Reds team-mate John Arne Riise with one during a break ahead of the 2006/07 Champions League last 16 tie against Barcelona.
Aside from a tempestuous attitude and career that took in 11 clubs (Liverpool and Cardiff twice) Bellamy was a gifted forward who possessed a voracious work ethic, speed and solid goalscoring record – 81 Premier League goals in 291 games.
He was a talismanic figure for Wales, captaining them from 2007-11 and scoring 19 goals in 78 caps.
5 DANNY WARD – £12.5m (Liverpool to Leicester City, July 2018)
Odd to see Ward coming in at No5, considering his failure to establish himself as a first choice goalkeeper, although at 25 he is still in his formative years as a No1.
Signed for Liverpool from Wrexham as a teenager but after just three senior appearances in six years at Anfield as a promising understudy to Pepe Reina and Simon Mignolet, Ward moved to Leicester in the summer of 2018 where he is now back-up to Kasper Schmeichel.
Ward, who has won only six Welsh caps, is also having to be patient at international level too, where stalwart Wayne Hennessey still commands No1 spot.
6 ASHLEY WILLIAMS – £12m (Swansea City to Everton, August 2016)
Another totemic figure for Wales, Williams encapsulates everything that has driven the Dragons to glory in the last decade – character, grit and spirit.
He scored the equalising goal in their memorable 3-1 Euro 2016 quarter-final triumph against Belgium and skippered the team during the transformative Gary Speed and Chris Coleman eras.
He was also the rock on which Swansea’s rise to the Premier League was built on, eventually leaving for Everton in 2016 following his and Wales’ heroics in France. But Williams’ form then dropped off a cliff and he has struggled badly with injuries on Merseyside.
7 CHRIS MEPHAM – £12m (Brentford to Bournemouth, January 2019)
One of Wales’ new breed, unheralded Mepham followed David Brooks to Bournemouth last season, snapped up by the Cherries from Brentford for £12m in the January transfer window.
He is yet to fully establish himself as a regular at the Vitality Stadium, but the 21-year-old made 13 appearances for Eddie Howe’s men last term and is one of the reasons why Williams is delicately being edged out at international level.
Mepham’s rise has been rather remarkable. He’d resigned himself to a career in Sunday league after being released by Chelsea at 14 and rejected by boyhood club QPR.
He was spotted by a Bees scout playing for North Greenford Reserves aged 16. Five years later he has just won his sixth Welsh cap.
8 BEN DAVIES – £11.5m (Swansea City to Tottenham, July 2014)
Another star who sizzled at Swansea before catching the attention of elite teams, versatile defender Davies was snapped up by Spurs in the summer of 2014.
The left-back, who is also an adept centre-back, shone for the Swans following Neal Taylor’s leg break, and the then regular Wales man struggled to regain his place at both club and international level following Davies’ emergence.
An ever-present at national level, Davies, 26, is closing in on 50 caps, even though he has had to play second fiddle to Danny Rose this season as Mauricio Pochettino took Tottenham to the Champions League final.
9 DAVID BROOKS – £11.5m (Sheffield United to Bournemouth, July 2018)
Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Allen have dragged the Dragons from obscurity into the limelight over the last decade, but Brooks is the spearhead of an exciting, emerging young wave of talent coming through.
He was one of the signings of the 2018/19 Premier League season, adapting seamlessly to the top-flight after his move from Sheffield United to Bournemouth.
Despite just one season of senior football at the Blades – during which he claimed three league goals and four assists – the 21-year-old proved a cut above at an even loftier level, scoring seven times and notching five assists for the Cherries.
Along with James, Harry Wilson, Ben Woodburn and Ethan Ampadu, Brooks is poised to become a beacon for Wales’ bright future.
10 JAMES CHESTER – £8m (Hull City to West Brom, July 2015)
Sneaking in at No10 is Warrington-born Chester who will make a return to the Premier League with Aston Villa next season. The 30-year-old Man United academy graduate made his name at Hull, during which he won a first Wales cap. He featured in a tenacious Tigers’ central duo alongside Harry Maguire before transferring to the Baggies.
He became a pivotal figure under Chris Coleman and played in all six games on their roller-coaster journey to the Euro 2016 semi-finals.