The Dutch are divided over Antony’s skill, but agree that a fee of 100 million euros is ridiculous

The Dutch are divided over Antony’s skill, but agree that a fee of 100 million euros is ridiculous

The Dutch are divided over Antony’s skill, but agree that a fee of 100 million euros is ridiculous

Who is Antonio? A villain? A socialist? A football whiz or a crybaby? In the Netherlands, people still don’t know after two years of watching the Brazilian play for Ajax. But after his move to Manchester United for € 100m (£ 85.6m) last week, the one thing they all agree on is that that nine-figure transfer fee is ridiculous.

Yes, he is a technical master of football, as we have rarely seen before. But not wanting to play two games for Ajax and an explosive interview to force a transfer have caused a lot of bad blood here.

However, it’s hard to ignore his big and generous heart. Take, let’s say, his goal celebration. Among Brazilian footballers who grew up in a favela, it is common to pay homage to their old friends. With a certain gesture they say: “I have not forgotten you, I know where I come from”. But when Antonio makes the letter “L” with his fingers after a goal, it is not intended for his friends from Osasco, a suburb of São Paulo also called Inferninho, or “Little Hell”. It’s not even his son, Lorenzo.

Related: Antony’s arrival signals a bold Manchester United upheaval | Jonathan Liew

No, the “L” began as a tribute to Larissa, a seven-year-old Brazilian girl cured of cancer she met in 2019 when Antony Matheus dos Santos started joining São Paulo FC. The winger shaved his head after winning the San Paolo Cup with his club in support of the girl whose eyesight was deteriorating and he visited them regularly. I’m still in touch. “Larissa will always be in my heart, she is a great source of inspiration for me,” Antony told the Dutch newspaper Trouble.

Such concern for the plight of others is in stark contrast to his attitude towards Ajax during his final weeks at the club which took him to Europe two years ago for € 15.75m and sold him to United. for a record Dutch figure.

When he arrived in Amsterdam, Ajax made him feel at home. There was also a special song, Bem-vindo Antonio (Welcome Antony), sung by new Brazilian teammates David Neres and Danilo and by singer Sarita Lorena. Antony felt comfortable and safe in the Netherlands, he said in February. “Normally I can shop here on the street and in peace. The people are happy and the fans are sweet ”.

But he had already indicated to Fabrizio Romano that he wanted to leave. He had bigger dreams. For most Brazilians, playing in the Dutch league is a first step towards moving up to other higher-paying European clubs.

And the fact is that Antonio will never forget where he came from. One of his many tattoos reads: “Anyone who comes from the favela knows what happened there”. In Little Hell his whole family slept in one room, there wasn’t always money for food, not to mention football boots, and they never felt safe from the violence of drug traffickers. Getting himself and his family away from that place was his biggest motivation.

Antony in action for Ajax against Sporting in the Champions League.

Antony in action for Ajax against Sporting in the Champions League. Photograph: Socrates Images / Getty Images

Antony’s star has grown considerably since his arrival in Amsterdam. After a good first season he earned Olympic gold with Brazil in Tokyo in the summer of 2021 and became an established member of the national team. Last season, Ajax made a big impression in the Champions League, winning all group matches with Antony in top form.

Even more than in his first season, he linked efficiency to entertainment. Her signature move is to control a cross pass behind her leg as she floats through the air like a ballerina. Antony accelerates so fast that he can overtake opponents from a standing position. He can cut from the wing and shoot to the far corner with his left. He also found Sébastien Haller flawlessly (especially away to Sporting) with passes using the inside or outside of the foot.

Erik ten Hag, now his manager at United, played an important role in his development while he was in charge at Ajax, demanding a first-class performance from Antony in every match, not just in big games. He defended him after Antony’s histrionics after being wounded against Feyenoord. “I wish more players had his temper, his will to win,” Ten Hag later said. When Ajax won the title they were dancing together.

Ten Hag praises Antony for his ongoing threat, his quick adaptation to European football, his speed and ambition, his fearless mentality. Ten Hag is a team builder but he knows he needs players with the ability to reward tight defenses. Without the injured Antony, Ajax’s form deteriorated in the closing months of last season. Ten Hag attributed it, in large part, to Antony’s absence. Ajax’s attack became too predictable without him.

But it also has its critics in the Netherlands. Marco van Basten, no less, said: “he plays in such a childish way”. Also that Antony loses possession too often, that there are misunderstandings with his team-mates and that he has only scored 24 goals and 22 assists in his 82 games with Ajax. Van Basten said: “I don’t even like his shot. In international football it’s all about statistics, goals and assists, I’m not impressed by that. “

Speaking on the same TV show, Rondo, Ruud Gullit, former teammate of Van Basten, wondered if Antony is ready for the Premier League. “It’s so difficult,” said the former Chelsea and Newcastle manager. “You just have to have a lot more experience, do a lot more. He is much faster physically. “

Yet most Ajax fans are saddened by Antony’s departure, with some even asking for a subscription discount. It is in club culture that entertainment is almost as important as winning. Antonio thrived in that atmosphere.

But the dominant feeling is the astonishment at the astonishing amount of money that has been paid for the 22-year-old. It was proposed on social media that the club’s football director and former United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, just as at the time of Donny van de Beek’s transfer to Old Trafford, would again place an ad in the Manchester evening News. This time it wouldn’t be a sweet letter to keep an eye on their former pupil. Rather it would be an image of himself and other Ajax board members laughing out loud as they smoke cigars and sip bottles of champagne in a tub full of cash.

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