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Ajax Captain Matthijs de Ligt: 'In the Champions League You Feel Valued'

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistNovember 12, 2018

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 11: Matthijs de Ligt of Ajax  during the Dutch Eredivisie  match between Excelsior v Ajax at the Van Donge & De Roo Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Rotterdam Netherlands (Photo by Erwin Spek/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Ajax defender and rumoured Barcelona target Matthijs de Ligt has appeared to suggest he could look to take the next step in his career after saying players "feel valued" in the UEFA Champions League, Europe's premier club competition.

Speaking to Fox Sports (h/t Sport) after Ajax thrashed Eredivisie opponents Excelsior 7-1 on Sunday, De Ligt hinted he finds the lack of competition in the Netherlands' top flight dull and could pursue a bigger challenge:

"To be honest, we didn't play at 100 per cent but we won 7-1. The difference between the sides in the Eredivisie right now is huge. The tension is less each time as there's only two teams who are racking up the points. If we keep winning it won't be a problem, but we have to admit that it's less fun.

"In the Champions League you feel valued. You have to give everything and those feelings are hard to find in the Eredivisie. There's a lot more competition."

Ajax have come second in each of the past four Eredivisie seasons, and the Amsterdam outfit qualified for the Champions League this term after three consecutive seasons exiting in the qualifying rounds. They haven't made it past the group stage since 2006.

Sports writer Si Lloyd recently referred to a report from Calciomercato's Fabrizio Romano, which reiterated Juventus' interest in De Ligt:

Si Lloyd @SmnLlyd5

Be surprised if this happens. Thought Matthijs de Ligt was made for Barca. https://t.co/hMmrS9TlID

It's said Juve saw De Ligt in action for De Oranje when they drew 1-1 in Italy in June and "fell in love with the player, but the Bianconeri perhaps still don't have the same allure to a young player as the Camp Nou.

Charlotte Duncker of the Manchester Evening News also cited United's interest in De Ligt, who was recently quizzed on rumours linking him with the Ajax exit. When asked which team he would pick out of United or Barcelona, the centre-back responded: "Ajax! The newspapers need to write something, it's normal (the rumours)."

The fact De Ligt has captained a revered club such as Ajax at 19 is evidence of his maturity, further proof in understanding what it is his admirers have seen in the player.

Former Netherlands midfielder Arnold Muhren, 67, represented both Ajax and United, and he recently said he felt De Ligt would thrive at Old Trafford, where Jose Mourinho is on the search for elite central-defensive talent, via Goal:

Goal @goal

"De Ligt would be Man United's ideal centre-back." 😲 💪 Ajax's 19-year-old has been backed for success by a man who knows him very well! https://t.co/R0o6Z8TUKW

The teenager exudes a calm in his possession and passing that's characteristic of a Barcelona player, and his 11 senior Netherlands caps—accumulated in only 18 months—are further testament to a rising talent.

One would perhaps struggle to find an Ajax player who didn't stand out as impressive in their one-sided win over Excelsior, although Statman Dave highlighted his outstanding defensive contribution:

Statman Dave @StatmanDave

Matthijs de Ligt's game by numbers vs. Excelsior: 2 shots 2 tackles 2 clearances 3 blocks 64 passes 98% pass accuracy CC: @ManUtd. 😜😜😜 https://t.co/mgSN5WNV15

Europe's biggest powerhouses are sure to be on alert after De Ligt's apparent admission that he could be prepared to search out more consistent Champions League football.