Photo by Giorgio Perottino — Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images
- Cristiano Ronaldo asked Matthijs de Ligt about joining Juventus when the two shook hands after Portugal had beaten the Netherlands 1-0 in the UEFA Nations League final, last month.
- Just a few weeks later the two players became teammates as de Ligt left Ajax for Juventus in a blockbuster $95 million transfer.
- When Ronaldo met de Ligt in Turin, Italy, he said he should be called "Agent Ronaldo," ESPN reports.
- Ronaldo did play a small role, but there were three other wildly influential figures involved in what is currently regarded as the transfer of the summer so far.
- De Ligt’s superagent Mino Raiola, the Juventus sporting director Pavel Nedved, and the team’s former center back Fabio Cannavaro all, wittingly or unwittingly, played a part.
- But, after all is said and done, it may well be playing alongside Ronaldo that has the greatest influence on the young de Ligt.
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Cristiano Ronaldo has been joking that he’s the one responsible for bringing coveted defender Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus FC from Ajax, a deal regarded as the transfer of the summer so far.
However, according to Simon Kuper at ESPN, while Ronaldo may have played a minor role there were three other wildly influential people involved in the blockbuster $95 million trade.
Kuper reports that de Ligt told his superagent Mino Raiola that he wanted to join Juve in June, shortly after de Ligt’s Netherlands team was beaten by Portugal in the 2019 UEFA Nations League final.
Portugal won that match 1-0, Ronaldo was seen embracing de Ligt after the final whistle, and the Dutch teenager alleges he was asked about a move to the Serie A champion.
"I didn’t understand him at first," de Ligt said, according to Eurosport. "I was a little shocked, so I laughed. But I didn’t say anything."
One month later, de Ligt and Ronaldo became club-level teammates and the Portuguese striker began joking that he should be called "agent Ronaldo."
Mino Raiola, Pavel Nedved, and Fabio Cannavaro played key roles
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Though de Ligt informed Raiola that Juventus was the move he desired just one month ago, the seeds had been sown before he had even kicked a ball, ESPN says.
Raiola rose to prominence in the 1990s, helping high-profile Dutch athletes engineer moves to Italy, which had one of the best, most thriving soccer leagues in the world.
By the time he was representing Pavel Nedved, he had built an impeccable contacts book and brokered the deal that saw the playmaking midfielder leave Lazio for Juventus in 2001.
Nedved, Raiola says, is an "extremist" — a soccer-playing workaholic who lives to train harder than his peers. With that mindset, Nedved helped Juve win two league championships.
He is now the club’s sporting director and one of the boardroom executives who would have been working on de Ligt’s five-year contract.
Raiola knew matching Nedved with de Ligt would be one made in soccer heaven, as the 19-year-old center back’s "work rate and mentality … approaches or even exceeds Nedved."
But Raiola and Nedved were not the only ones to inspire the $95 million move as the former Juventus defender Fabio Cannavaro also unwittingly played a part.
Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images
This is because de Ligt says he "fell in love with Italian defending" long ago.
ESPN reports that de Ligt still owns the Juventus shirt he wore 12 years ago, when he was just 7 years old. At that age, he hero-worshipped Cannavaro.
One of the most dominant defenders of his generation, Cannavaro led Italy to the World Cup title in 2006. And de Ligt believes Juventus can help him dominate much in the same way. "Juventus has such a clear growth plan for me," de Ligt said.
Ultimately, it may well be Ronaldo who has the greatest influence on the young de Ligt.
Ronaldo, like Nedved, is an "extremist" — an attribute Raiola revels in.
Ronaldo is one of the hardest-working athletes in soccer, something that has infuriated his own teammates when they’re invited to his house, only to find that all Ronaldo wants to do was eat healthily, play soccer in his garden, and train in the gym.
Ronaldo is a workhorse on the field, often running over every blade of grass there is on the pitch, scoring all types of goals, and winning matches.
Now Ronaldo has de Ligt, a player who will only go from strength to strength in the heart of the team’s defense, and someone who can link-up with the Portuguese to attack set-pieces with his mighty leap.
Ronaldo has enjoyed the fruits of his labor, often regarded as one of the two best players of his generation and all-time, alongside Lionel Messi.
Now de Ligt can perhaps join him, as Raiola and Nedved will be confident the teenager can grow into one of the best defenders of his generation.
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