Matthijs De Ligt has had a hard time at Juventus since his summer transfer from Ajax but now, he is enduring his first real crisis since he arrived in Italy.
The huge £68m transfer fee Juve paid to Ajax to land one of Europe’s most coveted players last year was not enough to guarantee him the certainty of playing time.
For Maurizio Sarri, the defender is simply not the first choice in the heart of his defence and the Dutchman appears to be feeling the effects of being left out in the cold.
The Dutchman has gone silent – even his Instagram account has gone quiet and there was no comment whatsoever after his team’s extraordinary 4-0 victory over Cagliari on Monday.
He has spent the last 5 matches on the bench: Sarri has chosen Merih Demiral ahead of the young Dutch defender, who sits on the bench next to Sarri. The duel with the Turkish centre-back sparked concern with De Ligt and the silence on social networks seems to be a sign of a small annoyance for not having played a game in the last 30 days.
After the terrible defeat against Lazio in Rome, the defender no longer played alongside Bonucci.
‘Playing 23 games after Chiellini’s injury, learning a new foreign language and adapting to the fast pace of Serie A is not easy for De Ligt,’ Sarri said. ‘He is now resting and recovering from an injury.’
But ultimately for De Ligt, the journey from captain and gladiator at Ajax to back-up for Demiral at Juventus is not how he thought he would start 2020.
‘De Ligt strongly desired Juventus because he wanted to go to the best club for the defenders,’ his agent Mino Raiola has said of the Dutchman’s move. ‘In Turin he works with the best because he wants to become the best in the world.’
But De Ligt also rejected other clubs, such as Barcelona, because he would not have immediately played in the heart of the defence.
A slight muscle discomfort for the adductor and a slight dislocation in the shoulder cannot be considered an insurmountable obstacle for him – he always played at Ajax because they considered him indispensable. He was apparently recovering from illness when he took to the bench for the game against Cagliari but there were queries over how much that was really the case.
Former Juventus boss Fabio Capello said: ‘They say so (that he was ill), but we must give him time to understand the new system and the new mentality.’
The truth for Sarri is very simple: Demiral now offers more technical guarantees than De Ligt and for this reason the Dutchman has been put on the bench.
During training in Continassa – the Juventus training centre – star players such as Gianluigi Buffon, Cristiano Ronaldo and Georgio Chiellini all pamper De Ligt to try and make him feel part of the Juventus project.
But the player wants to be the main man as soon as possible – he wants to play in the next game – a difficult trip to meet Roma, who are fourth in Serie A.
But Chiellini’s eventual return from injury, scheduled for February, may even complicate De Ligt’s plans to be a first-team star.
Sarri may prefer Chiellini alongside Bonucci and for De Ligt the risk more time on the bench could increase.
Barcelona could be a solution to the situation come the end of the season. It has been ruled out that at they can present a big offer to Juventus and Raiola to buy De Ligt.