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Virgil van Dijk wants to be a legend of Liverpool

  • Virgil van Dijk wants to be a legend of Liverpool

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 down with 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”.

On the growth spurt which helped changed his life…

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.

On his appendix problems and eating unhealthily…

I was in hospital for 13 nights and it was very tough. It was a complicated appendix [problem]. 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.

On how the Liverpool move came about…

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.