“Of course we hope he will be Ajax’s next star.” It was July 2020 and Erik ten Hag, the Ajax manager at the time, introduced Antony, the club’s new signing of £20m from Sao Paulo.
“We at Ajax are always trying to get to the top,” added Ten Hag, “so I think he will do his best to reach that level of expectation. The rest we will see in the future. coming.”
Ten Hag was right to expect big things from Antony – the Brazilian, just 19 when he agreed to a move to Amsterdam, quickly established himself as one of Ajax’s key players – but even he could not have predicted that he could one day take him to Manchester United. too.
Antony, now 22, scored 25 goals in 82 appearances for Ajax, breaking into the Brazilian squad. United are ready to pay a fee of around £80m which has raised some eyebrows. Is it really worth it?
How Ten Hag Shaped It
For Ten Hag, a coach who knows Antony like few others, the answer is yes.
“As soon as Ten Hag went to Old Trafford I thought ‘he’s going to take Antony with him’, because Ten Hag has done a tremendous job developing this player,” said South American football expert Tim Vickery. Sky Sports News.
Antony was “talented but very raw” when he arrived at Ajax two years ago, according to Vickery, an opinion shared by the coaches in charge of the Brazil Under-23 side at the time.
“He played for Brazil at U23 level, which is important here, to qualify for the Olympics,” Vickery added.
“They had the vital game, the last game of the campaign, just before the pandemic at the start of 2020. They had to beat Argentina.
“Antony had been first choice throughout the campaign and for the first time they let him down. Why? Because he was playing winger, left footed, high right, and every time he slowed them down .
“He was picking the ball up and getting back on his strongest foot and he was taking the momentum out of attacks. You thought at this stage: raw.
“But Ten Hag got him and turned him into a quick little winger who can play on both flanks, has a lot of improved decision-making and can also work backwards and make a bit of a change.
“So as soon as Ten Hag went to Manchester United I thought, well, Antony is his man.”
Antony quickly moved from Brazil’s U23s to their senior side, scoring twice in nine appearances under manager Tite, who describes him as a player with ‘similar technical characteristics’ to Neymar, but his numbers for Ajax don’t stand out not immediately.
The winger hasn’t reached double the goals scored in either of his two Eredivisie campaigns, with his overall tally of 18 putting him behind 18 other players in the division. He ranks outside the top 10 in shots on goal and chances created in the same time frame.
Still, there was enough for Ten Hag to talk about his “incredibly beautiful development” last season. His progress is most evident on the Champions League stage.
Antony helped Ajax reach the knockout stages for only the second time in the past 16 seasons last year, tormenting Borussia Dortmund twice in the group stage and scoring twice and providing four assists in seven appearances in total.
Ten Hag always believed in his potential but he also pushed it.
In March, after Antony helped Ajax to a 2-0 victory over AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Cup semi-finals, the Dutchman criticized his performance, warning him against showboating in the future.
“He has to focus on football,” Ten Hag said. “He was a total threat, but he has to convert that into returns and not worry about frills or frills. He has to play more efficiently because he had chances to make the last pass.
“It was clear that he was very dangerous and on the one hand I liked him, his speed, his pressure, the threat of his dribbling, but he could have gotten more out of his game as well.”
Another player might have found those comments harsh in the context of a 2-0 win, but Antony obviously sees the value in Ten Hag’s demand.
“Every player under his guidance becomes a better footballer through his training,” he told the Dutch newspaper. From Telegraaf.
“Since I arrived, he gave me a lot of confidence and believed in what I could do. I’m grateful to him for that. I respect him a lot.”
Why the fees are so high
Ten Hag will be confident of continuing to improve Antony if he moves to Old Trafford, but United will have to pay a premium if they want that to happen.
Having already paid £56.7m for Antony’s former Ajax team-mate Lisandro Martinez, two years his senior at 24, the Dutch club can rightly expect an even higher fee. high for a player under contract until 2027.
“The problem they have is financial,” Vickery added. “The reference is that they already went to Ajax and took Lisandro Martinez, and paid a lot of money for him.
“Now Antony is a younger player, a more glamorous player, so you can hardly go back to Ajax and say, ‘We bought Lisandro Martinez for £60m, can we have Antony for less?
“That’s not going to happen. So if United want to get him, they’re going to have to spend a lot of money on him.”
The problem they have is financial. The reference is that they already went to Ajax and took Lisandro Martinez, and paid a lot of money for him.
Martinez isn’t the only key player already sold by Ajax this summer either. They also allowed striker Sebastien Haller to join Borussia Dortmund for around £28m, while midfielder Ryan Gravenberch moved to Bayern Munich for £17m before that.
Add the sales of Perr Schuurs to Turin (£8m) and Nicolas Tagliafico to Lyon (£3.8m) and Ajax received over £100m in transfer fees, a figure which ensures that there is little financial need to cash out Antony too.
Instead, they can raise their asking price knowing that Manchester United – and their new manager in particular – have the will and the resources to make the deal happen at an inflated price.
Where he fits in at Man Utd
Antony can play on both flanks. His versatility is undoubtedly part of the appeal of Ten Hag and United. But he’s more comfortable on the right, where he tends to drift inside and use his stronger left foot.
Most of his shots tend to come from that side and he’s used to creating chances from there too, hoisting diagonal crosses into the box from the ‘half space’ between wing and center ground.
United are already reasonably well supplied in the wide positions, but Marcus Rashford prefers to operate on the left, while Jadon Sancho, who has played on the right in each of their three Premier League games this season, is fit to play on that side. . The same goes for young Anthony Elanga.
With Rashford and Anthony Martial also capable of playing as central forwards, if indeed Ten Hag is going to continue ignoring Cristiano Ronaldo after Monday’s win over Liverpool, there is therefore a potential opening for Antony on the right of attack. by Ten Hag.
There’s reason to believe it could fit in stylistically and positionally.
Like Martinez, his former Amsterdam teammate, Antony already has a comprehensive understanding of Ten Hag’s tactical approach and preferred system.
He also has attributes suited to Manchester United’s counter-attacking identity. With his speed and candor, it’s not hard to imagine Antony playing a role similar to those filled by Rahsford and Sancho in Monday’s exhilarating win over Liverpool.
“In this great tradition of wing play that Old Trafford has, you can really imagine that the fans like what Antony can provide because the talent is there and Ten Hag has done really well to develop it,” added Vickery.
Antony also offers the industry out of possession. Ten Hag demands high pressing from his attacking players and Antony was key to that at Ajax. In fact, throughout his time in the Eredivisie, only five players have won possession in the final third more times than him.
It’s just another reason why his former manager is now determined to bring him to Manchester, just like he did to Amsterdam from Sao Paulo two years ago.
The fee ensures that the pressure to meet expectations will be even higher than it was at Ajax. Ten Hag will support him to deliver for him again.