2nd October 2018: Bayern Munich vs. Ajax. UEFA Champions League. Group E.
Serge Gnabry latches onto the ball on the left flank and with one touch, bursts past the fairly hapless Noussair Mazraoui on the left flank. He then, at maximum Usain Bolt-circa-2009 speed, tries to do the same against Ajax's 19-year-old centre back.
It doesn't work.
The soon-to-be Bayern Munich Player of the Year knocks the ball forward toward the touchline, but this time, he is hounded down. He is out-paced, then out-muscled.
In the blink of an eye, Gnabry has gone from the brink of crossing the ball from the left-side of the penalty area, to watching the ball loop up toward Ajax's Dusan Tadic on the halfway line.
In the blink of an eye, Ajax starlet Matthijs de Ligt has, with a slap-wrap tackle, won the ball back and then coolly clipped the ball into the centre of the park.
In the blink of an eye, Matthijs de Ligt has announced himself to the world as a natural born world-shaker.
A star has been born.
Fast forward nine months, and that star has the world at his feet.
He has, with astonishing performances in Ajax's run to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, proved that that tackle - that's still going viral - was not a one off. Matthijs de Ligt is now the most sought after footballer in Europe, with Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Real Madrid, basically every big club all vying for his signature.
And for good reason.
He is now arguably the best centre back in the world, and inarguably the greatest natural defensive talent we have seen since Alessandro Nesta burst onto the scene in 1994 - five years before De Ligt was even born...yes, I feel old too. De Ligt's talent is such that Marcello Lippi, one of the greatest managers in history, stated:
“There is no need for comparisons, but I’ve seen plenty of greats, like Alessandro Nesta, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Ciro Ferrara, Fabio Cannavaro, and Marco Materazzi. I’ve never seen anyone like that at his age."
High praise indeed.
On top of God given natural talent and athletic ability, De Ligt, despite being a boy, has also shown himself to be a proven leader of men. His speech at Ajax's title ceremony in front of approximately a trillion people in Amsterdam was an exemplification of that.
Shoulders upright, chin up, casually holding the Eredivisie title in one hand and clenching a microphone in the other, exuding a confidence rarely seen in a young player, De Ligt authoritatively exclaimed that he and his teammates had shown the world just how good they are.
"We showed to the great above us [Johan Cruyff] what he wanted and what he expected from us and we did it with us all, experience players, youth players, everyone, the supporters. We want to to thank you for this great season, and we will see you next time."
Matthijs de Ligt
This is the sensible choice, not just because they are one of the favourites to win the UEFA Champions League next season, but because they are a club at which he can hone his craft alongside genuine legends of the game.
For by signing for Juventus, the centre back hasn't just chosen Juventus. He has chosen Giorgio Chiellini. He has chosen Leonardo Bonucci. He has chosen Gianluigi Buffon.
Matthijs de Ligt has chosen self-improvement.
For man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.
John Steinbeck - The Grapes of Wrath
For a kid with such explicit self-confidence, De Ligt is also acutely aware that he can be better than he currently is; his defensive lapse in the Netherlands' UEFA Nations League semi final win over England - in which he also scored a thunderous header - is proof that this self-thesis is right.
Amazingly, there is room for improvement.
Amazingly, we haven't seen half of what he is capable of.
Amazingly, Matthijs de Ligt is probably nine or ten years away from hitting his peak.
He knows this better than anyone.
Now at Juventus, for the next three years at least (don't bug Juve fans with the €150m release clause), Matthijs de Ligt has given himself the opportunity to learn from some of the greatest defensive minds in history and become what he is supposed to be: a world shaker - the best defender the world has ever seen.
Time to shine kid.