Barcelona, City-linked De Ligt becomes 1st defender to win Golden Boy prize

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Matthijs de Ligt has won the 2018 Golden Boy award as the best European-based player aged 21 or under, becoming the first-ever defensive recipient of the honor after firmly establishing himself as an influential figure in Ajax's starting XI.

The 19-year-old is the first Dutch player to collect the award since Rafael van der Vaart won the inaugural individual gong in 2003. Other past winners include Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Kylian Mbappe.

"I know who (else) won this prize almost by heart and to be honest, I appreciate it a lot," De Ligt said, as reported by ESPN's Ben Gladwell.

"There are lots of very big names on the list, but if I were to name one, then Messi stands out for me. Everybody recognizes what he has done for and in football. I really like him a lot as a footballer so I'm very proud to have won the same trophy which he lifted before me, 13 years ago, when I was only 6."

De Ligt beat out Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold, Roma's Justin Kluivert, Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior, and AC Milan's Patrick Cutrone.

Meanwhile, the center-back's performances have apparently attracted attention from the likes of Barcelona and Manchester City, but Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars said two months ago that he wouldn't allow the player to be sold in the upcoming January transfer window.

De Ligt made his international debut at the age of 17, and has worn the captain's armband for Ajax since he was 18. He'll be expected to make his first appearance in the Champions League knockout stage when Ajax begin a double-header against holders Real Madrid in February.

Barcelona, City-linked De Ligt becomes 1st defender to win Golden Boy prize
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