Everton’s former head of European recruitment has revealed just how close Liverpool came to signing of his close friends in Stefan De Vrij.
Prior to the Reds signing of Van Dijk in January 2018, Jurgen Klopp and Co were scouring Europe to land another defender.
A number of big-name defenders were mentioned as possible targets, with one of them being De Vrij.
Liverpool will no doubt be happy with their choice of Van Dijk, giving the leadership he has brought to their side.
His absence this season due to a serious ACL injury has probably been more keenly felt than any other injury they’ve suffered. Not that Jamie Carragher is allowing for any excuses after explaining his recent criticism.
Champions League success and Premier League glory have though followed since Van Dijk’s arrival.
But it may have been a different story had they followed-up on initial interest in De Vrij, according to Ian Atkins.
Atkins told the Liverpool Echo: “I know at one point Liverpool were very interested.
“Stefan’s contract was up with Lazio and Inter were very strong on him. They offered him a strong contract, but then Barcelona came in.
“Barcelona had spoken to him and he rang me and asked me what would I do. I told him that you don’t get the chance to go to Barcelona every day of the week. But they had the Pique’s and they wanted four centre halves. Stefan would have been one of them who would have been in and out.
“They also had something to do with the President at the club. If he would have stayed then the coach would have gone. I just said make sure you don’t lose Inter because of it.”
De Vrij went on to sign for Inter and to be fair, has become a bedrock of their side too.
Explaining why Liverpool changed their mind and instead pursued Van Dijk, Atkins went on to explain how the latter’s attributes just suited Klopp’s style a little bit more.
“Liverpool had spoken to him but came up with a great one [Van Dijk] to be fair. They just felt Van Dijk could play on the edge a little bit more than Stefan. And they were right because Klopp likes to squeeze and push to the halfway line. Van Dijk is just that little bit more mobile. I said that to Stefan and he accepted it to be fair.”
Mane jumps to defence of Firmino
While there may be some dissatisfaction about the output of Liverpool’s forwards this season, their quality is not up for question.
One of those key cogs has now jumped to the defence of another, with Sadio Mane protecting Roberto Firmino from criticism.
“He deserves more credit than me and Mo [Salah], for sure. But it is part of football, always seeing the goals scored,” Mane told ESPN Brasil.
“But I think without Bobby I don’t see myself or Mo scoring as many goals as we have, to be honest.
“He makes everything easier for us. Brazil is lucky to have Firmino. I always say to Bobby ‘you have to change your nationality and maybe come to Senegal’ – which for me would be a dream!
“I just love him and he is my favourite team-mate.”