Transfer Talk: Ajax face battle to keep hold of in-form Antony
Ajax wing wizard Antony is a man in demand.
The brilliant Brazilian is attracting plenty of attention — and all eyes will be on the No11 tonight when the Dutch giants take on Benfica in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
But why have Europe’s top clubs started to sit up and take notice? And where might the 21-year-old star be plying his trade next season?
We take a look at the past, present and future of one of European football's most prodigious attacking talents.
Antony joined Ajax from Sao Paulo in July 2020 and immediately announced his arrival on the Eredivisie scene, scoring the winner 37 minutes into his debut against Sparta Rotterdam.
It set the tone for the season ahead, which he finished with 10 goals and 10 assists in all competitions.
Domestically, Antony only missed three games as Ajax won the Eredivisie and the KNVB Cup.
The Brazilian followed that up by winning Olympic gold in Tokyo, setting up the winning goal in the final.
No looking back
This season, Antony has picked up where he left off. He won his first senior Brazil cap last October and helped Ajax top their Champions League group with a 100% record.
The 5ft 9in winger continues to go from strength to strength in Amsterdam.
He has already gone one better than his 2020-21 goals tally and is just a solitary assist away from reaching double figures in successive seasons.
And Antony has truly made his mark in the Champions League this term, with only Manchester United maestro Bruno Fernandes (six) providing more assists than his five.
Time to move on?
Ajax assembled their current crop of stars after selling the spine of their previous golden generation that reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2018-19 — also under the management of Erik ten Hag.
Recent history has shown the Dutch giants will not stand in the way of any player if they receive a lucrative offer that cannot realistically be refused.
But given that he only turns 22 tomorrow, there is not necessarily any great urgency to leave the Dutch capital — and there are fewer better places to continue your development than Ajax.
Despite having three years remaining on his current deal, Ten Hag appears to be resigned to losing Antony sooner rather than later.
Speaking last November, he said: "If you play a role in the Brazilian selection, it is clear that he [Antony] will be [poached].
"He is going through an incredibly beautiful development. Especially if we perform in the Champions League, then it is clear that he will come into the spotlight and be interesting for a lot of clubs."
Off to Old Trafford?
Antony is not the first player to be linked with Manchester United and he certainly will not be the last — but such a transfer is easier to envisage than most.
That is because Ten Hag has regularly been talked up as the Red Devils’ next manager, when they replace interim boss Ralf Rangnick in the summer.
Joining arguably the biggest club in the world without having to adapt to a new coach’s approach must be one of the best moves a young player can make.
Jadon Sancho on the left, Antony on the right and Cristiano Ronaldo through the middle? Only time will tell — but United could be at the front of a long queue for the attacking starlet from Sao Paulo.