ANTONIO Rudiger leaving for Real Madrid on a free transfer was unideal as Chelsea embarked on the first transfer window of the post-Ambramovic.

The club’s new ownership, a consortium led by American businessman Todd Boehly, are evidently keen to make a splash in the market this summer, pursuing a string of top-end talent with the aim of closing the gap at the top of the Premier League table on Liverpool and champions Manchester City. The loss of a defender of Rudiger’s calibre, with no fee in return, was a headache they could’ve done without.

But the potential arrival of Matthijs De Ligt, the player Chelsea have reportedly identified as their primary target to fill the void the German centre-back left behind, could see the Blues not only adequately replace Rudiger but also introduce a familiar kind of presence at the heart of the Stamford Bridge backline.

For 17 seasons, John Terry was the commanding, dominant heart and soul of the Chelsea defence. The 78-cap England defender rose through the club’s youth ranks to captain the Blues to their first Premier League title in 2004-05, before adding four more top-flight crowns to a glittering medal collection that also included five FA Cups, four League Cups and, in 2011-12, a Champions League triumph.

Terry was, to put it very mildly, uncompromising. An old-school centre-half, he was supremely dominant in the air at both ends of the pitch – his attacking aerial prowess is evidenced by 74 career goals – and a natural leader, keeping his defensive colleagues in check and ensuring high standards prevailed among the squad. He was also more adept in the tasks demanded of the modern centre-back, quicker across the turf than he was often given credit for and an accurate and incisive forward passer.

De Ligt shares these traits in abundance.

 

The Dutchman shot to prominence with his boyhood club, Ajax, where he graduated from the Eredivisie side’s prestigious academy to become captain while still in his teens. In just two and a half season as a regular starter at the Johan Cruyff Arena, he earned winners’ medals in the domestic league and cup and shone for his leadership of a young Ajax side as they stormed to a Champions League semi-final, eliminating Real Madrid along the way, in 2018-19. So impressive was De Ligt’s form on that European run that he won the Golden Boy award in 2019, recognising the teenage defender as the best young prospect on the Continent.

CHELSEA SEASON SPECIALS

“As a defender, it’s really important to communicate with the players in front of you and next to you,” De Ligt told the Independent in 2019 of his impressive leadership and maturity. “It makes it easier for yourself, if you talk to each other then they can maybe break a line for the striker or other small details, it can make a really big difference.”

“He’s got composure on the ball, he’s aggressive tactically, he sees the game, he reads the game well and he’s got that driving force for himself as well in what you need to achieve and where you want to go to,” legendary Dutch defender Jaap Stam enthused of his young compatriot.

De Ligt also scored seven all-competitions goals that season, just one shy of Terry’s best-ever return for a single campaign, displaying a knack for timing his aggressive pursuit of the ball on set pieces that Chelsea fans will, should he move to Stamford Bridge, find familiar.

A €75m move to Juventus soon followed, with the Bianconeri fending off rival interest from several of Europe’s biggest club’s to land the gifted young defender. De Ligt helped Juve maintain their Serie A dominance in his first season in Turin, but he was blighted by inconsistency. Now, with Juventus having lost their long-held standing as Italy’s unassailable champions after back-to-back fourth-place finishes, there is a feeling De Ligt could be available for the right price – as much as £86.4m, according to the latest reports.

So De Ligt would not come cheap. But even if his three Serie A season have not quite fulfilled expectations, he remains one of the finest centre-backs in Europe and, at 22, he could conceivably remain so for more than a decade.

His calibre is undeniable. Last season, he had a greater tackle success (66.7%) than Rudiger (65.2%), Thiago Silva (44%) and the other centre-back most strongly linked with an imminent move to Stamford Bridge, Sevilla’s Joules Kounde (63%), while winning more total aerial duels (109) than any of the remaining trio – Kounde is next best with 91. On the ball, only Silva (92.9%) had a better pass accuracy last term than De Ligt (89.9%).

Centre-back is not the only position in which Chelsea are seeking an upgrade this summer and, while the new ownership has thus far appeared willing to spend, they are no longer backed by the personal wealth of a free-spending billionaire; the Blues are believed to be investigating swap deals to lower their cash outlay.

But De Ligt is a target Chelsea should prioritise, not only to replace Rudiger but to fulfil the blueprint for Stamford Bridge success laid down by Terry.