Juventus defender Matthijs De Ligt believes ‘the dirty work’ is all part of being a defender and he enjoys that part of his role as well. The Dutch international gave a lengthy interview to The Guardian where he began by talking about how angry he still is with himself over Villarreal’s equaliser in Juve’s recent Champions League match.
I always want to be the most critical about myself, I know exactly when I did something wrong. To grow, sometimes you have to accept you made the wrong decisions. And yeah, in that situation I could have done better.
Has defending changed? Before, you had different types. You had the ones who were just in the box, heading balls away, but couldn’t play. And you had defenders who were really good with the ball but couldn’t defend. The trend now is that all defenders are quite complete. They’re all fast, they’re all strong, they can play with the ball. The level is different.
At Ajax, when I was 15 I played as a midfielder, then I became a centre-back, playing out of the back and not really understanding the situation and what it needed. Sometimes you had to kick the ball away, sometimes you had to play, and with experience I learned the right thing to do in the situation.
The dirty work is so important. People call it dirty, but I find it really nice. To head the ball away, to win duels. I’m quite an old-school defender in that way. You have a lot of defenders now who just stay in position, cover the spaces. But I also like to defend one-on-one, battle against the opponent. At Ajax I was used to playing a really high line. Sometimes too much, maybe. That’s quite risky. Now at Juventus it’s about finding a balance.
You can definitely improve, For example, Giorgio is now 37. And right now he plays like he is reading a book. He knows: ‘OK, this situation will happen, and then this will happen now.’ And obviously he didn’t have this when he was 20. So with experience, he learned. But it’s also a little bit about having the feeling. The feeling where something can go wrong, or where the guy’s going to pass the ball. That’s something quite natural. And I think all the good defenders in the world have this.
The most important thing for me is to win. At Juventus, if we win 1-0 and play bad, honestly I think everybody will still be happy. And if you play amazing and lose 2-1, you’re not happy. Every team has a certain DNA, that’s different in every club. If you defend really high and you lose 5-0, 4-0, then yeah. OK. Maybe it’s better to stay a bit lower.
The discipline to work hard, to be nice to people, to have respect: they’re big on education at Ajax, and that’s something I still take with me everywhere I go.
There was a lot of things coming at me at a young age. A lot of talking. Every little mistake became something really big. But the most important thing is to see the big picture. When you win the Golden Boy [award], that gives some pressure. But as a player, you have to love the pressure. Because it says you are something good. Seeing it this way gives me some space in my head.
What is Allegri like as a manager? His biggest quality is he understands that it doesn’t have to be pretty all the time, It’s all about winning. And that’s also the mentality of Juve. It doesn’t matter if you play well. It’s just about the three points. Step by step, we understand more what he expects from us.”