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Manchester United have agreed to pay Ajax £84 million in hopes that Antony Matheus dos Santos, the son of a Sao Paulo locksmith, can provide the key to the Erik ten Hag revolution.
It’s quite a burden of responsibility, but the 22-year-old Brazilian is used to the weight of expectation that rests on his shoulders.
“In Antony’s case, the sky is the limit,” says Andre Jardine, one of his former coaches, who worked with him in his early years at the famous Sao Paulo academy and later on the Brazilian Olympic team. “Who knows how far this player can grow.”
Antony close to completing £84m move from Ajax to Manchester United this week
Jardine spoke to Globo Esporte in February and already predicted a move from Amsterdam to one of Europe’s top leagues. “I think he will leave Ajax, and it won’t be long,” he said. “He is going to an even bigger club in Europe and his path in the national team is just beginning.
“He could be an important player for Brazil in the next three World Cups and it will be cool to see what he achieves. It will depend on his appetite to keep growing.’
Antony was born in Osasco, in the state of Sao Paulo, home to Manchester City’s Ederson and Real Madrid’s Rodrygo, and grew up in a favela called Jardim Veloso.
At the age of 18, after eight years in the club’s academy, he was promoted to the Sao Paulo senior team and a year later he stood out when he played in the Copa Sao Paulo de Futebol Junior, an under-20 tournament that many Brazilian stars including Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Vinicius Junior.
The Brazilian star poses next to his father and mother in the Johan Cruijff Arena
The winger has done well in the Eredivisie and has become one of the most important players of Ajax
He was voted the league’s best player in 2019 and his progress accelerated under the guidance of Jardine.
“In Sao Paulo I came to his case and he knew he had to improve,” said Jardine, who now coaches Atletico San Luis in Mexico. “I let him finish more, asked him to cross with his right foot and work more than the others.
“That helps to raise the awareness of the player, but when he went to Europe, I could see that he had matured as a person and sought this as his personal goal.
“The last time we spoke, he told me he was still finishing his work. I always told him that this was the quality that was missing if he wanted to be a complete player. Then I saw during training that he picked up the ball better and shot more.’
United’s new boss Erik ten Hag knows Antony well from their time together at Ajax
If there is criticism of Antony, it remains that he could score more goals, but he is the epitome of a modern winger. He has a fast pace and technical dribbling ability that allows him to break through the lines and he is willing and able to press with high intensity.
The natural position for him at United would be to the right of attack as he likes to dribble in and threaten the goal with shots from his left foot.
Ten Hag soon began to trust him when Ajax signed him at the age of 19 for a fee of £13 million plus extras from Sao Paulo. Together they won the Eredivisie title and the Dutch Cup twice.
Antony scored 25 goals in 82 appearances for the club, fulfilled one of his childhood dreams of playing in the Champions League and started all six games when Brazil won gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
Antony was part of the Ajax selection led by Erik ten Hag who won several national titles
Two months later, Tite called him up to Brazil’s senior squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. His first international goal came just 15 minutes after his debut against Venezuela, in October.
Antony has been a fixture in Tite’s roster ever since and looks set to be at the World Cup in Qatar this winter.
Yet the amount of his transfer fee exceeded all expectations in Brazil, where Sao Paulo is entitled to a 20 percent discount on Ajax’s profits on the deal, an amount estimated to be around £16 million.
People began to fear that there would be no windfall this year as Ajax resisted and priced him out of a move.
The winger has played a number of games for Brazil following his rise in football
In the end they got a record amount in Dutch football.
Is he worth the money? That’s a question now being asked in Brazil as Barcelona signed Raphinha from Leeds for around £30million less, but Antony has never made a step up before.
Ten Hag supports him to do it again and open the future at United.