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Virgil van Dijk: From Dishwashing to World’s Most Expensive Defender
Virgil van Dijk has had a dramatic rise from Groningen to Liverpool, via Celtic and Southampton, to become the player considered by many to be the best defender in the world. The Netherlands international sat downwith Guillem Balague and, in a wide-ranging interview for BBC Radio 5 live, discussed growth spurts, the box set he has watched eight times, getting drunk at Disneyland and his aim to be remembered “as a legend of Liverpool
Van Dijk, now 6ft 4in tall, was born in Breda and was in Willem II’s youth team before joining Groningen in 2010
I wasn’t tall until I had a growth spurt – at 16 my younger brother was getting taller than me. Over the summer I turned 17, I grew 18 centimetres.
My knee was a bit unstable. I had groin problems. I had so many problems, then I had proper rehab with physios and was out for six weeks. After that, I started playing well.
At 16, I was a slow right-back and wasn’t good enough to play centre-back. I was never a standout player until I played for the under-19s and became the captain. Then everything went much better – I played some games for the under-23s and after that it went pretty quickly.
When I went to FC Groningen, I had to take my bike to training – my first wage went on driving lessons. Before I signed my contract, I was 15 or 16 and working as a dishwasher in a Breda restaurant.
I trained Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and played Saturday and worked on a Wednesday and Sunday evening from six to midnight.
I worked because I wanted to go to town on a Saturday night. I got maybe 350 euros every month and I was so happy with that, I could go to McDonald’s and treat my friends. Then I started to realise how important money can be, but it’s not the most important thing.
I was in hospital for 13 nights and it was very tough. It was a complicated appendix (proble)]. I had an infection in my stomach; it was crazy. It all happened on 1 April 2012 (April Fool’s Day), so the day didn’t help either.
I was in one of my best periods at Groningen. We were meant to be playing the derby against Heerenveen and I was feeling sick – I didn’t eat too healthily over there so it was my own fault. It was a tough two weeks before I got surgery and after that was even harder. I was definitely in shock.
I put the TV on and a song came on – Viva la Vida by Coldplay, it was an emotional moment. If I hear it now I think of the tough moments and how good it is right now and how proud I can be.
I couldn’t do anything for at least 10 days, I couldn’t walk. When I walked for the first time, I did 10 metres and was breathing like crazy.
After a month, I started training with the physios to get my muscles back. After that I played a full season and went to Celtic.
Van Dijk spent two seasons with Celtic before moving to Southampton. After two seasons at St Mary’s, he put in a transfer request amid interest from Liverpool, with the Saints accusing Liverpool of making an illegal approach. Six months later, he joined the Reds for £75m.
After the end of August [and the transfer window] I put my head down, played for Southampton and gave everything. I was happy to play because I came back from an eight-month injury.
When everything happened over the summer, people doubt you. For me, I really didn’t care as I gave everything in games and training. When it was December and I got a call to say they got a deal done and I could talk to Liverpool, I was very happy.
I went to the Juventus v Real Madrid Champions League final in Cardiff in 2017 and a lot of Liverpool fans came to me and said I had to sign for them. It was a great gesture; they were nice and respectful.
I’ve known my best friend since I was 12 or 13. He’s going to be a dad soon so I’m very happy for him. If I need him, he’s there. If he needs me, I’m there for him.
I keep a very small circle around me. The bigger you get as a player, the bigger the spotlight. A lot of people you met once or twice want to come into your life again. I have a fantastic wife who can see through those things as well.
My family, my wife and my kids are the most important thing. I’ve had many tough times over the years but coming home and seeing my kids smiling and my wife, everyone is healthy, then nothing matters to me in the world. That’s the driving force for me. That’s what I do it all for.
Suriname – one of South America’s smallest countries – declared independence from the Netherlands in 1975.
My mum is fully Surinamese and my dad is fully Dutch. I went there a couple of times and enjoyed it. When we go there we go to see family. I’d like to go there with my kids.
My grandfather lives in Breda; he’s a very proud grandfather. He’s a cool guy. A lot of people in Breda know him. He was a referee – sometimes I went to games to watch him and they respected him a lot.
On why many great players like Patrick Kluivert, Ruud Gullit and Clarence Seedorf are of Surinamese descent…
Maybe we are just chilled. It’s just the way we think.
I like Disney movies and I love to take my kids to Disneyland. Seeing them so happy makes my day.
I was about seven or eight when I first went and it was fantastic but we didn’t go too many other times because it was so expensive.
I went with my wife in the beginning stage of the relationship. We got drunk in the hotel and I loved every bit of it.
I like to keep everything simple. That’s how it was back in the day and that’s the way it should be. Why make things difficult? Why have tough times when it’s not necessary? Why be negative when you can enjoy life and be positive? That’s something I learned over the years.
I try to be positive as I can. Life is too short to be negative.
I’m a big TV show guy. I’m a big fan of Prison Break – I’ve watched it eight times.
I remember starting Game of Thrones, everyone said ‘you have to watch it’ but I thought ‘it’s science fiction, it’s not real, it’s nothing’. I gave it a go and then couldn’t stop watching it.
In the first season they *redacted for people who have not watched the first season* and I was like ‘woah’. After that it’s crazy. You see things you can’t expect. It makes it a great show.
I see a lot of things changing, the way people think. The influence of social media is unbelievable. It’s sad to see – it’s a fake life that some people live.
I like to be private.
When we win, everything is fantastic and maybe you are the best centre-back in the world and people are talking about that. But if you lose or concede, then you’re the worst centre-back in the world. That’s the life we live.
As a legend of Liverpool. I want to achieve amazing things here. We have a fantastic squad, we have everything, we have all the tools.
They went all out to get me and I want to give everything for them. Before I started training [with the club], I went to the game against Leicester [in December 2017]. I was in the boardroom and met so many legends, great players who played for a beautiful club.
When you play for this club, you’ll always be welcome as you’ve been part of the family. It’s one of the reasons I definitely wanted to play for the club.
My wife’s parents live in the countryside in the Netherlands. I love it when we’re there; it’s nice and quiet and nobody bothers you. I’ve thought about living like that when we finish.
But then you have London and areas like Kensington with nice houses, and you think it would be fantastic to have a town house. A little bit busy, nice little bars and breakfast places.
We don’t have loads of days off but when we do, we take a train to London and have a nice time there.