Matthijs de Ligt has become one of the most highly-rated centre-halves in world football, but the Dutchman admits he never wanted to be a defender and saw himself as more of a creative midfielder.
The 20-year-old was a talented playmaker within the youth system at Ajax until being forced into a positional change at the age of 15.
He was not overly keen on that switch, with there a desire on his part to impact proceedings in the final third – rather than contain the threat of opponents at the opposite end of the field.
De Ligt quickly grew into his new role, though, and was one of the most sought-after assets in Europe prior to Juventus luring him away from Amsterdam for €75 million (£67m/$84m) in the summer of 2019.
On how he reached that point, the 2018 Golden Boy winner told Champions Journal: “I played a lot in midfield, scored some goals, provided assists, and then suddenly they told me it would be better for my career to go one position back, to centre-back.
“At the beginning, I was thinking, ‘I don’t like being a defender,’ but now I’m starting to realise that the way I was brought up as a midfielder is helping me. So, I’m really happy that this was the development I had to go through.
“Since the emergence of that Barcelona team, the ‘tiki-taka’ team, everybody has wanted to play from the back. And to play from the back, you need defenders who are good with the ball. That’s why technical ability is really important in my role.”
He added: “It is important to know for yourself if you’re mentally right; if you’re ready, nobody can stop you.
“That is the thing that I started to realise and that is good also: to take a step back and see things that maybe you can improve. That is what I do. What I am saying is that mental ability is really important for defenders.”
De Ligt surged through the system at Ajax to captain the senior side while still in his teens.
International honours accompanied that rise, before Juve spent big on acquiring his potential.
Questions have been asked of him in Italy, leading to more transfer talk, but he is expected to stay put and continue learning off the superstar performers he has alongside him for club and country.
De Ligt said of his development, which includes partnering Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk with the Netherlands: “It’s great to play with one of the best players in the world. And I guess we are a good duo.
“And now at Juventus with [Leonardo] Bonucci and [Giorgio] Chiellini, they are defenders with a lot of experience who know what it’s all about. I try to learn from them.”