The Reds’ £1.3 million arrival, Sepp Van den Berg, is certainly one for the future; a centre-back who comes with tremendous potential, if little fanfare.
Beating the likes of Bayern Munich, Ajax, and PSV to his signature, the relatively unknown 17-year-old represents a very canny investment for Jürgen Klopp, but his former managers who know him best.
Van den Berg’s former manager at PEC Zwolle, John van’t Schip, – a European Cup winner with Ajax – was the one who gave the young centre-back his first start with the club in March 2018. He spoke exclusively with the Echo about the Reds’ newest signing.
After impressing in pre-season, Van’t Schip nevertheless sent him back to the U19s to continue his development, but he was brought into the senior side more regularly after injuries depleted the squad.
Not going to lie, I’ve only seen highlights of Sepp Van Den Berg but I’m fully convinced that he’s the next Virgil Van Dijk.
Welcome to the best team in Europe. pic.twitter.com/tG8zNtWWxc
— Samuel (@SamueILFC) June 27, 2019
Despite acknowledging his skill, solid mentality, and huge potential, Van’t Schip has been quick to dismiss the unrealistic comparisions between the young Van den Berg and the Reds’ PFA Player of the Year, Virgil van Dijk.
“It’s stupid of course. You just have to let him develop in his own way. He doesn’t have the physical [body] of Virgil and he’s got a totally different pathway. Virgil started with some lower teams and could develop himself with Groningen and Celtic,” he stressed.
“Seppi has only played 20 games in the Eredivisie and is now going to Liverpool. That’s a totally different build up.
“I think the thing with him is people must understand he’s not a first team player yet.
“They have to get him there and he’ll have to work. If Sepp was playing at Ajax he would not be in the first team, he would be in the second team or maybe have some time playing in the cups.”
Of course, Van den Berg has a great deal of development within him, but to make the comparision with Van Dijk this early in his career is perhaps a bit too far-fetched.
At his age, Van Dijk was still learning his trade at Willem II’s training academy, then at Groningen, before two seasons at Celtic allowed him to hone his craft ahead of his move to Southampton.
It hasn’t been until his world-record move to Liverpool that his Balon d’Or candidacy has been vindicated. Van’t Schip is right to question the comparison and it is far too early to tell what kind of ceilng Van den Berg has.
In December 2018, Van’t Schip was relieved of his duties with the club, before Jaap Stam took over the reins at PEC until March of this year (when he assumed managerial duties at Feyenoord) and John Stegeman suceeded him.
🇳🇱 Clearly a strategy at #LFC in targeting young Dutch centre-backs for the academy.
Wanted Perr Schuurs in 2017, signed Ki-Jana Hoever in 2018, now likely to sign Sepp van den Berg this year.
Who needs Matthijs de Ligt when you can sign the next one for €2m? 😉 pic.twitter.com/1UzerzB1vb
— Jack Lusby (@jacklusby_) June 24, 2019
But Michael Valkanis, PEC’s assistant manager who was also in charge of their youth academy in the Netherlands, championed the precocious qualities of the young centre-back.
“I was impressed with the calmness and ability of a 16-year-old to play at the highest level in Holland,” he admitted.
He’s always been a very mature player for his age, Sepp may come across young but he plays with experience somehow. He’s capable of reading the game very well, physically he’s strong for his age, he’s tall, quick and comfortable on the ball.
“In saying that there’s a lot of improvement in him. Many clubs have seen there’s a lot of potential and Liverpool are the lucky club who will have a fantastic central defender.
“I think when you look at him for his height, you don’t think he can be quick, but Seppi is very athletic. I think he’s done very well in the Eredivisie – which is known for good attacking football with quick wingers.”
With this feedback from his former coaches, it seems abundantly clear that Jürgen Klopp and the Reds have got quite the player on their hands, albeit one for the future.
Not the next Van Dijk, but the next stage in the development of Van den Berg. Nothing more than that, for now.