Former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam says Virgil van Dijk’s rise to superstardom at Liverpool could not have been predicted earlier in his career.
Many thought that the Reds had paid over the odds for the Dutchman when he made the £75million switch to Anfield from Southampton in January 2018 – a then world-record fee for a defender.
But since scoring the winner on his debut against local rivals Everton in a 2-1 FA Cup win, van Dijk has been a huge factor in restoring Liverpool to their former glory.
He was instrumental in guiding them to Champion League glory in 2019 while he’s been a massive presence in helping Liverpool to the brink of ending their 30-year wait for domestic title glory.
Before the current campaign was suspended, Liverpool were top of the table with a massive 25-point lead and, for the second season running, boasted the best defensive record in the top-flight thanks in large part to van Dijk’s class, composure and leadership qualities at the back.
And yet Stam, who won three Premier League titles with Manchester United and is now head coach at FC Cincinnati in the United States, says such a future couldn’t have been predicted for his fellow countryman.
“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.
“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.”
Stam says that playing with better players at each level has helped van Dijk grow.
“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,” said Stam.
“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.”