Former Manchester United and AC Milan defender Jaap Stam has detailed the rise of Virgil van Dijk, admitting that nobody in his homeland of the Netherlands truly predicted it.
We find it crazy that a player as good as van Dijk, someone we rate as maybe the best defender we’ve ever seen play football, was still at Southampton aged 26 – but the truth is he’s been a late developer – much to the benefit of Liverpool.
Other world-class centre-backs like Sergio Ramos and Rapha Varane were lauded from their teens, but van Dijk had to fight his way to the top and earn progressively bigger moves every few years.
Now, he’s head and shoulders above the rest.
‘It’s very good to see another Dutch defender going to that height and developing himself a certain way because with Virgil as well in the beginning of his career, even when he played in Holland for Groningen, nobody believed in him or looked at him as a top defender,’ Stam told ESPN FC, cited in the Metro.
‘The big teams in Holland didn’t want to buy him and then he made the choice to go to Scotland to play for Celtic. His development over there was great playing in a different league, a very tough league, good players, becoming a better player for himself for the team.
‘It also helps as well the players that you’ve got around you, they need to help you out at certain times as well to become a better player so you can learn and you can express yourself a lot more.
‘Then he made the step to the Premier League to Southampton, again, tough league, better league than the Scottish league, better players around him, also against him, and of course is great development and tells you something about him, how he is as a person, as a player.
‘It needs to be in yourself as a player that you want to develop yourself, you need to learn from situations that you’re in, and he’s done that.
‘And now at Liverpool again, big step, big club, a lot of quality players, he’s a big leader in that team but of course, the other players around him help him out as well.
‘It’s a very good combination and it’s good to see that he’s also performing in the national team as well.’
One of Van Dijk’s biggest strengths is his ability to maximise the performances of the defender alongside him.
Dejan Lovren is a car-crash waiting to happen next to Joel Matip, but looks far more measured next to the no.4. So does Matip – and Joe Gomez much prefers van Dijk alongside him than these two as well.
This enables Jurgen Klopp to always field a strong pairing, providing one of them is Virg!
The centre-back was named the world’s second best footballer for 2019, which was an enormous compliment, considering he finished above the likes of Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe in doing so.