It’s been another phenomenal season for Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool.
The centre-back hasn’t missed a single game in the Premier League and has been key to keeping more clean sheets and conceding fewer goals than any other top-flight side.
No doubt that will all sound very familiar if you’ve been keeping up with the Reds’ title quest.
Yet the 28-year-old’s every move hasn’t always been so well-documented.
It was only in 2013, when he moved to Celtic, that he really became known at all in the UK.
Premier League fans may not even have been aware of him until he rose to prominence at Southampton, before heading to Anfield in a £75 million deal.
That means some elements of his extraordinary journey towards becoming the best defender in the world have gone under the radar.
However, inspired by ‘Soccer Stories – Oh My Goal’, we’ve decided to take a look at some of the best anecdotes about Van Dijk to have been unearthed.
1. The Dutchman used to wash dishes for €4-an-hour and was told to quit trying to make it as a footballer. Jacques Lips, owner of the Oncle Jean restaurant in Breda told the Mirror:
“After work, his dad always used to pick him up. I would often tell him he should wash more pots and stop trying to become a professional player.”
2. He once did a ‘Maradona’, scoring a brilliant solo goal for Celtic against St Johnstone. It came just months after Neil Lennon had signed him for the Hoops – and there was no eye-watering price tag back then, either. The defender had cost just £2m. Check out the goal below:
3. Before establishing himself as the most composed centre-back on earth, he actually used to be a right-back – a “slow” one at that. At youth level, he also played as a striker. Van Dijk once told BBC Radio 5 Live:
“At 16, I was a slow right-back and not good enough to play centre-back. I was never an outstanding player until I played for the U19 (at Willem II) and became captain.”
What changed? After the age of 17, he grew into becoming a centre-back quite literally – shooting upwards by a whole seven inches.
4. It’s intriguing that he mentions his stint at Willem II – he was actually never given a contract by the club despite spending a decade playing for them. Per the Mirror, it caused the youngster to feel “betrayed” as the academy didn’t see him having a future in the professional game.
5. Many Liverpool fans will remember that the Reds had to fight off competition for his signature from Manchester City. Chelsea were also in the mix but Antonio Conte claimed, via the Independent, that the Blues were priced out by that famous £75m bid. Jurgen Klopp was a decisive factor in swaying him towards Merseyside.
6. That said, Van Dijk might never have made it that far past the Scottish border at all. The Daily Record reported in 2014 that he was being monitored not just by eventual buyers Southampton, but also by Newcastle United and – further afield – Sevilla.
7. The 2019 PFA Player of the Year counts himself lucky to be alive, with his former coach Dick Lukkien telling FourFourTwo that Van Dijk nearly died in 2012 due to a burst appendix and a subsequent kidney infection. He even signed a will. Fortunately, his life was saved by surgery.
8. Now captain of the Netherlands, Van Dijk is following in the footsteps of several other Oranje legends who has family from Suriname. His mother was from the South American country, just like the heritage of Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Frank Rijkaard.
9. Like so many 90s babies, he grew up watching the great Barcelona sides of that era and supported the Blaugrana as a child.
The recurring theme from many of these stories is that nobody really expected him to make it as a footballer at all, let alone become a European champion and Ballon d’Or runner-up.
Van Dijk’s story is one of defying the odds and overcoming numerous hurdles – and that makes his journey to the very pinnacle of football all the more inspirational.
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