Former Southampton forward Charlie Austin has revealed the details of a conversation he had with Virgil van Dijk prior to the defender’s move to Liverpool.
Van Dijk had announced himself as one of the best defenders in the Premier League with his move to Southampton.
As such, he attracted interest from Antonio Conte’s Chelsea as well as Liverpool and Manchester United.
But Liverpool eventually won the race, signing him for a then-world-record fee in January 2018. Since then, he has fulfilled his £75million price tag with consistency and leadership – and silverware to boot.
Speaking to talkSPORT, ex-Southampton striker Austin revealed a conversation with Van Dijk before his move to Anfield. The chat involved the interest from United, who signed Swedish defender Victor Lindelof in June 2017.
“I remember at the back end of his Southampton career we were on the bench together at Chelsea, and I said to him ‘come on Virg, what’s going on? Surely Man United must have been in for you’,” Austin said.
“He said to me, ‘in the summer, it was between me or Lindelof’. I couldn’t believe it, I was gobsmacked.
“There was talk in the summer that he was going to go there and they got Lindelof instead.”
Van Dijk’s eventual departure came after a tumultuous end to his career on the south coast. He had been in talks about a move to a new club since the start of 2017, leading into the summer window.
Liverpool were linked before Southampton alleged that the Reds had conducted an illegal approach for the player. As such, Liverpool then released a statement ending their interest.
However, amid Southampton’s firm stance, Van Dijk began training alone before handing in a transfer request.
Austin recalls Van Dijk, Southampton blow
“The manager was Pellegrino at the time, and in the summer he [Van Dijk] was looking to go,” Austin added.
“I remember him [Pellegrino] getting everybody round in pre-season, everyone on the pitch including Virg, and just said ‘look lads, Virgil wants to go, the club are not allowing him to go, so he says he’s not going to play so he’s not going to train with us’, in front of everyone.
“He [Van Dijk] was gobsmacked, there was no heads up from the manager or anything. It was more down the line of stamping his authority.
“Two days the later transfer window shut and Virg was starting again on the Saturday.
“He apologised to the lads, but we just said ‘Virg, we understand, you were linked with Liverpool and you wanted to go, it’s fine by us’, we were just happy that he was here because of the quality that he brought.”
Asked whether Van Dijk would have moved to United if they had firmed up their interest, Austin replied: “I’m not sure, I think he had his heart set on going to Liverpool.”
Van Dijk has proved a vital acquisition to Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Indeed, the Reds have felt his absence this term as he continues long-term rehabilitation from a knee injury picked up in October.