Virgil van Dijk was convinced to sign with Liverpool by Jurgen Klopp’s playing style, vision for the future of his side and the existing teammates, despite having the option of joining league-leaders at the time Manchester City.
The 28-year-old Dutch centre-back was enjoying a second full campaign at Liverpool before all football was postponed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Did Van Dijk transform Liverpool? Five key things to know…
- Van Dijk has played more Premier League minutes (7,255) than any other outfielder since making his league debut for Liverpool on January 22, 2018.
- Liverpool have lost just five of his 81 top-flight appearances for them (winning 64 and drawing 12).
- They have kept a clean sheet in 39 of his Premier League games (48%) while conceding 53 goals (0.65 goals per game).
- Liverpool are a minimum of two wins from securing their first-ever Premier League title and lifted the Champions League last May.
- Last September, former Man City captain Vincent Kompany said Liverpool were a “completely different team” without Van Dijk, who came second to Lionel Messi for the last Ballon d’Or award.
Van Dijk came through at Willem II before joining fellow Eredivisie club FC Groningen and it was there he caught the eye, but a move to one of the Netherlands’ biggest clubs never transpired. Instead, Celtic brought him to British football.
Two trophy-laden seasons would follow in Glasgow, which subsequently led to strong Premier League interest. Van Dijk would link up with compatriot – and future Ducth national team boss – Ronald Koeman at Southampton.
After two-and-a-half seasons on the South Coast the Reds, after months of speculation, made him football’s most expensive defender, a tag-line he’d lose in the summer of 2019 when Harry Maguire made the switch from Leicester City to Manchester United.
His arrival proved to be a turning point in Jurgen Klopp’s leadership. With him marshalling Liverpool’s backline, they’d reach back-to-back Champions League finals. Right now, they are effectively two wins away from ending a 30-year championship drought at Anfield.
‘Van Dijk is the best defender in Premier League history’
Van Dijk’s influence convinced Kompany, a legendary Premier League defender in his own right, that the Dutchman is the greatest example of a player in his position since the competition’s inception.
“I would choose Virgil van Dijk as the best defender in Premier League history,” said Kompany ahead of his Man City testimonial late last year.
“It is a strange choice, because he is not in the scene as long as boys like Terry and Ferdinand. Those boys have played in the league for a very long time.
“But the signals that Van Dijk gives in his last few seasons make it so clear that if he had gone to the absolute top before, he would be even further.
“He makes a huge difference to his team. A defender never stands alone, it is about his communication with teammates and how you make your team stronger.
“The Liverpool before Van Dijk was there and the Liverpool after Van Dijk was a completely different team. That is why I choose him as the best defender from the Premier League ever.”
Kompany’s opinion is all the more curious, as he could have been lining up with Van Dijk before ending an illustrious 11-year playing career at the Etihad Stadium.
Liverpool weren’t the only club keen to acquire Van Dijk’s signature. Manchester City, eager to establish themselves as English football’s premier dominant force and running away with the league at the time, were widely reported to have made him their top target the summer before his eventual Anfield move, as well as for the subsequent winter transfer window. City were even led to believe a £60m deal was close at one stage, according to the Telegraph.
The Dutchman has now revealed why he chose to play under Klopp rather than Pep Guardiola and it was nothing short of being a meticulous decision.
“Before I made the decision to choose Liverpool, I looked at all the aspects of the clubs; the way of playing, the team-mates, the future as well,” he told BT Sport.
“The city, the fans everything has got to be a big part of joining a club. I think Liverpool at that time when I made the decision was the right decision and obviously to reach the Champions League final in my first six months was obviously a big bonus and helped me a lot in my development.”