From De Jong to De Ligt, Ajax’s talent factory is challenging Europe’s best | Jacob Steinberg

Dutch side are closing on the Champions League knockout phase thanks to latest batch of tyros causing the sharks to circle

Last month a reporter stuck a microphone in Matthijs de Ligt’s face and asked the Ajax defender to choose a favourite out of Barcelona and Manchester City. The trap was obvious but De Ligt was too cute to walk into it. He shrugged his shoulders, smiled and gave a simple reply: “Ajax”.

But while it was smoothly done by the 19-year-old, Ajax are all too aware one soundbite will not be enough to drown out the noise when money starts to talk. Even though they are primed to reach the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time since 2006, it is their misfortune to know their pedigree cannot protect them from the financial might of Europe’s leading clubs. Their list of honours contains four European Cups but history alone is not enough to lift Ajax up the economic ladder.

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