The lowdown on Liverpool's new signing Virgil van Dijk
Liverpool have made Virgil van Dijk the most expensive defender as he completes an €85m move from Southampton. We profile the rise of the 26-year-old former Groningen and Celtic centre-back with a prowess for spectacular free-kicks who has come up the hard way.
What they say
“After years of waiting he made an excellent debut, as if he’d already been playing with the Oranje for a long time. Right footed, he had to play on the left side, but he was excellent in the build-up and made some great passes.”
Former Ajax defender Sonny Silooy on Van Dijk’s Oranje debut
“The first day I watched him in training I thought, ‘We’ve got one here’. He showed composure and strength. At that point we knew we had a specimen.“
Neil Lennon, his first manager at Celtic
“He can become the world’s best defender. Not only is he really good, he is also really young and has his best years ahead of him. That means he will be a valuable player for years to come. He has a huge physique, he’s super fast and he is good with the ball at his feet, so he fits into Liverpool’s style of play.”
Ronny Deila, former Celtic manager
“He is one of the best defenders in the world and he has all the qualities to become the best.”
Claude Puel, former Southampton manager
“The first thing all Liverpool supporters should forget quite soon is the price. We only talk about the player, what he can bring in, his qualities, his mentality, his character, all that stuff. That’s why we are really happy about it.”
Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool manager
International: 16 appearances, 0 goals
UEFA club competition: 33 appearances, 4 goals
Domestic competition: 205 appearances, 20 goals
Claims to fame
• A youth product at Willem II, Van Dijk joined Groningen aged 19 in 2010, making his professional debut at the end of that season. His bow came against ADO Den Haag on 1 May 2011.
• At the end of that month, Van Dijk scored his first professional goals, against the same opponents in a play-off to decide the Netherlands’ European places. “With the first goal I just took the team with me back to the halfway line, but with the second I let my emotions go,” said Van Dijk. “This is such a wonderful feeling.”
• Became a regular the following season, opening his Eredivisie account in a 6-0 win against Feyenoord on 30 October 2011.
• Van Dijk managed five Eredivisie goals in 57 matches for Groningen before moving to Celtic in summer 2013.
• Made his debut as a substitute in a 2-0 win at Aberdeen on 17 August 2013, saying; “I came on as a sub for Efe [Ambrose] and it was a great feeling. After that it went like a rollercoaster.”
• Was soon performing well at both ends of the pitch, getting his first two goals in a 4-1 defeat of Ross County that November. His free-kick into the top corner against Hibernian a couple of months later confirmed him as Celtic’s best set-piece threat since Shunsuke Nakamura.
• In that first season was part of a miserly defence which racked up a Scottish record of 13 consecutive clean sheets.
• Impressed in the UEFA Champions League against the likes of Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax, and again in the UEFA Europa League the following season as Celtic reached the knockout stages.
• After two Scottish titles, was on his way after Celtic were unable to reach the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League group stage.
• Moved to Southampton on 1 September 2015, signing a five-year contract. His debut was a goalless draw against West Brom, Van Dijk scoring his first goal in his fourth game – a 3-1 win against Swansea.
• Made 34 Premier League appearances in his debut season at St Mary’s, helping the Saints finish sixth and earn a place in the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League.
• Played all six European games the following season, scoring against Internazionale Milano (helping the Saints to a memorable victory) and Hapoel Beer-Sheva, although the English side bowed out of the competition after the latter draw.
• Named Southampton captain on 22 January 2017, after the departure of José Fonte to West Ham.
• Part of the side that reached the English League Cup final, Van Dijk missed the defeat by Manchester United – and the second half of 2016/17 – after damaging a ligament in his foot against Leicester in January.
• A former Under-19 and U21 international, Van Dijk made his senior Oranje debut on 10 October 2015, in a 2-1 UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying win against Kazakhstan. “I am extremely proud to have made my debut,” he explained. “I’ve waited a long time for this and I’m hungry for more.”
• Van Dijk has since become a regular but is still awaiting his major tournament bow, after the Netherlands failed to qualify for UEFA EURO 2016 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
What you might not know
• Liverpool have reportedly paid almost €85m for Van Dijk – making him not only the most expensive defender ever but by far the most expensive Dutch player. The previous record was set by Marc Overmars, who left Arsenal for Barcelona in July 2000 for a reported €40m.
• Van Dijk came through the youth set-up at Willem II though he was deemed too small and too slow. However, he still has warm feelings for the Tilburg side. “I don’t blame anyone,” he said. “In the end for me personally things went well after all – but Willem II is still in my heart. I had ten very pleasant years there in the youth department, and I’ll never forget them.”
• In September 2014 Van Dijk received a first Netherlands call-up from Guus Hiddink, which forced a swift change of plans. His girlfriend was due to give birth, which was arranged for an earlier date – allowing the centre-back to join up with the national side after the arrival of his daughter. Van Dijk had to wait until October 2015 for his first cap, under Danny Blind.
What he says
“I am vocal, I am obviously pretty tall, I like to command the defensive line and have the ball as well. I like to play out from the back and be comfortable on the ball.”
On his qualities
“Jaap Stam was a Dutch centre-back who did an amazing job for United and for our country as well. He was always a player who I looked up to.”
On his boyhood idol
“Celtic is a brilliant football club; it will always be in my heart and I will always be a Celtic supporter myself.”
On making his move to Southampton
“I have played in the Champions League with Celtic and that was very special … Liverpool is up there as well with the atmosphere and the fans. I am just looking forward to everything! Everything is perfect; the stadium, the training ground, the facilities and the people who work at the club, the people and the city, the fans. It is just the perfect place for me to be, and for my family to be as well.“
After joining Liverpool
What he might achieve yet
• Van Dijk comes into a Liverpool team whose Premier League challenge and very nearly their UEFA Champions League hopes have been derailed by a tendanct to ship goals, especially from winning positions, as against Arsenal and Sevilla this season. He can hit the ground running, with games coming up on against Everton in the FA Cup and Manchester City in the league before the UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie with Porto. And just as Liverpool are looking to Van Dijk to help rediscover their glory days, so will the Netherlands. He may have been a late starter but Van Dijk has the chance to achieve big things.