How Virgil van Dijk has gone from Groningen novice to £75m machine at Liverpool

0
8
Virgil van Dijk has had an exceptional 2018 since he swapped Southampton for Liverpool


Virgil van Dijk is officially one year into his Liverpool career and is already on his way to becoming a club legend. Questions were asked when Anfield officials shattered their transfer record but his £75million fee now looks value for money after a string of outstanding performances.

The Holland international was always the man Jurgen Klopp wanted to lead his back four and overlooked players such as Aymeric Laporte, Davison Sanchez and Kalidou Koulilbaly to secure his signature ahead of both Manchester clubs and Chelsea.

He is arguably the best centre half in the world and Sportsmail spoke to four people who have seen him rise from promising novice to defensive machine.

Virgil van Dijk has had an exceptional 2018 since he swapped Southampton for Liverpool

Virgil van Dijk has had an exceptional 2018 since he swapped Southampton for Liverpool

GRONINGEN (2011-2013): Hans Nijland, General Manager 

Virgil was a young guy, only 18, when we signed him from Willem II Tilburg. 

He wasn’t even a full-time professional but our chief scout, Henk Veldmate, had watched him and said we had to do it. Within 12 months, he was playing in our first team.

He played as a striker a couple of times – our coach set him up in the last 15 minutes of one match when we were losing – but he was a central defender. 

His senior career began when he was picked up at 18 by Groningen from Willem II Tilburg

His senior career began when he was picked up at 18 by Groningen from Willem II Tilburg

His senior career began when he was picked up at 18 by Groningen from Willem II Tilburg

Van Dijk was deployed as a striker on a handful of occasions but soon returned to centre back

Van Dijk was deployed as a striker on a handful of occasions but soon returned to centre back

Van Dijk was deployed as a striker on a handful of occasions but soon returned to centre back

He had this great size to go with his mentality and professionalism. Every time I watched him, I was 100 per cent sure he would take the next step.

We sold him to Celtic and then two years later, I had a call from Ronald Koeman. 

“Hans,” he said. “I am taking Van Dijk to Southampton.” Ronald had followed him and knew he could be special. I’m proud of Virgil. I also sold Arjen Robben and Luis Suarez. He is with them in the world’s top 10.

CELTIC (June 2013-September 2015): Neil Lennon, Manager 

We had seen plenty of footage of him playing for Groningen. You are watching and going: “Wow, is this boy available? There must be something wrong with him. He must have one eye or something missing.” 

There was no doubt about his qualities. I knew right away, the first time I saw him.

The only surprise, to me, was that he didn’t move from Celtic earlier – because he was a standout player. Why he didn’t go to a bigger club earlier, I don’t know. 

Neil Lennon, the boss who got Van Dijk to Celtic, knew the Dutchman's quality straight away

Neil Lennon, the boss who got Van Dijk to Celtic, knew the Dutchman's quality straight away

Neil Lennon, the boss who got Van Dijk to Celtic, knew the Dutchman’s quality straight away

In the end, it cost Liverpool £75m when it maybe could have cost them £50m less, if they had really looked at him.

He had fantastic temperament, fantastic physique and his all-round qualities; he was just a Rolls-Royce. He could go through the gears when he wanted to. Technically unbelievable. We got him for just over 2m euros. I couldn’t believe my luck, really.

It doesn’t surprise me Liverpool have improved with him in the team. Virgil is one of the best in the world now. There’s no question about that. 

He could win Player of the Year. That would be a great feather in his cap. His wee mate (Andrew Robertson) at left back is doing not bad as well.

They are two players who were in Scottish football four or five years ago, now they have played Champions League finals and sitting top of the Premier League. So the talent is still here.

He developed physically in Scotland and went on to win three league titles at Parkhead

He developed physically in Scotland and went on to win three league titles at Parkhead

He developed physically in Scotland and went on to win three league titles at Parkhead

SOUTHAMPTON (September 2015-January 2018): Charlie Austin, team-mate 

The first time I saw Virg, I looked at him thought: “Christ! The size of you!” 

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know a lot about him before we played together – I signed a couple of months after him – but that soon changed after a couple of weeks.

It was horrible to train against him, as he made you angry. It wasn’t that he’d kick you or anything like that, it just felt like he wasn’t even trying yet he’d still take the ball off you. 

He always seemed to be a step ahead in his mind, did everything with ease. He never has to make last ditch tackles.

A move to Southampton was next and Charlie Austin says he was a nightmare to train against

A move to Southampton was next and Charlie Austin says he was a nightmare to train against

A move to Southampton was next and Charlie Austin says he was a nightmare to train against

I would say, though, that Jose Fonte had a massive impact on him. 

Jose was the wise head in our dressing room, he was always giving everyone advice whether it was things you should be doing to look after yourself physically or offering pointers in games. He and Virgil had a great relationship.

You know when work with someone of the ability that Virg has that it will only be matter of time before they end up at the highest level and he has taken to Champions League football like a duck to water. 

I have never seen anyone push him into areas where he’s uncomfortable. 

He’s different class.

Working closely with the defender, Austin had no doubt Van Dijk would play at the highest level

Working closely with the defender, Austin had no doubt Van Dijk would play at the highest level

Working closely with the defender, Austin had no doubt Van Dijk would play at the highest level

LIVERPOOL (January 2018 – present): Joe Gomez, team-mate 

We played Southampton in the league cup semi-final (in January 2017) and I was on the bench at St Mary’s. I was intrigued about him. 

I wanted to be central defender and I was thinking to myself “What makes him so good? Why is everyone after him?”

So I watched him in the warm up and I could see his presence straight away. He was playing these long balls and doing everything so naturally. I watch YouTube videos. With other players you might look and think they aren’t as mobile or aren’t as dominant, aggressive but he had it all.

But, when we signed him, I was a bit wary. 

Liverpool's Joe Gomez admits he used to watch YouTube videos of Van Dijk to help his game

Liverpool's Joe Gomez admits he used to watch YouTube videos of Van Dijk to help his game

Liverpool’s Joe Gomez admits he used to watch YouTube videos of Van Dijk to help his game

Another central defender coming in? I thought if I want to play in that position, how am I going to do it? With that type of transfer, the likelihood is that he will be first choice for a long time. I also couldn’t gauge how he would be as a person.

Within the first few days, we had hit off. I’m close with Gini Wijnaldum and he helped break the ice. Now we have got a great connection. 

I can go to him for advice, whether it is about football or something else, and he’s there. That sums it up.

The biggest compliment is that he makes it so I don’t feel like an inexperienced centre-half alongside him. It’s down to him that my confidence has built and I can dominate.

It’s not easy to have the effect he has done on a club like ours. It says all you need to know about him that is what he’s done. In the last 12 months, I have not seen anything that he has done that has made me doubt him. That’s how good he is. 

He has had an immeasurable effect since joining Liverpool and is on course to be a club legend

He has had an immeasurable effect since joining Liverpool and is on course to be a club legend

He has had an immeasurable effect since joining Liverpool and is on course to be a club legend

 



Source link

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here