Virgil van Dijk’s meteoric rise to prominence has been saluted by fellow Dutchman Jaap Stam, with the Liverpool defender having been transformed from a player that “nobody believed in” to a “big leader”.
At 28 years of age, a commanding centre-half is now very much at the peak of his powers.
Champions League glory has been savoured at Anfield, while a series of consistent displays as a talismanic presence under Jurgen Klopp have seen Van Dijk come into Ballon d’Or contention.
He has come a long way in a relatively short space of time, with the Netherlands international admitting that his career almost ground to a halt before it had really begun when on the books at Groningen.
Van Dijk has, however, worked hard to make his way to the top, with Stam – who once starred in the Premier League for Manchester United – pleased to see a “top defender” getting the recognition he deserves for never giving up and allowing his full potential to be unlocked.
“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.
“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.
“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 it 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.
“And now at Liverpool again, big step, big club, a lot of quality players, he’s a big leader in that team but, of course, the other players around him help him out as well.
“It’s a very good combination and it’s good to see that he’s also performing in the national team as well.”
Van Dijk, who became the most expensive defender on the planet when completing a £75 million ($92m) move to Anfield in January 2018, is now captain for his country and a key part of a Liverpool side that are waiting on a green light to wrap up a first Premier League title triumph.