Virgil van Dijk is a Dutch professional footballer who plays as a center-back for Premier League club Liverpool and captains the Netherlands national team. Since making his professional debut in 2011 with Groningen, van Dijk established himself as one of the most accomplished defenders in European football.
His ball-playing ability, aerial prowess, and leadership qualities have seen him become one of the most expensive defenders in history following his £75 million move to Liverpool in January 2018.
Van Dijk’s journey to the top has not always been smooth sailing, with setbacks along the way before achieving success. Regarded as one of the best defenders in the world, he has helped transform Liverpool into a dominant force once again.
With UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup winner’s medals in his cabinet, van Dijk has etched his name into Liverpool folklore. At international level, he will be expected to lead the Netherlands to future honors after finishing as runners-up at the UEFA Nations League Finals in 2019.
This article will explore van Dijk’s background, early life, breakthrough into professional football, career highlights, style of play, records, awards won, and legacy as one of the greatest defenders of his generation.
Early Life and Background
Virgil van Dijk was born on July 8, 1991 in Breda, a city in the southern Netherlands. He was born to a Dutch father and a Surinamese mother.
Van Dijk grew up in a small village called Willemstad located in the Brabant province alongside his two younger sisters and brother. His father was a caretaker while his mother cleaned offices. Despite their modest means, van Dijk remembers his childhood fondly.
From a young age, van Dijk was obsessed with soccer. He would play on the streets for hours on end, often using clothes as makeshift goals. This passion for the beautiful game never wavered even as van Dijk took on part-time work as a dishwasher at a local restaurant when he turned 16.
Early Football Career
Van Dijk began his football journey with local club WDS’19 in Willemstad. He started off playing as a right back where his marauding runs forward first caught the eye.
Aged 18, van Dijk made the step up to the professional ranks by signing with Eredivisie club FC Groningen in 2009. However, he continued to play with WDS’19 on an amateur basis while also completing courses to become a sales manager. Juggling work, education, and football proved difficult, but van Dijk was determined to make it as a pro.
After spending time in FC Groningen’s youth setup, van Dijk made his first-team debut on May 29, 2011 against ADO Den Haag. Later that year, he scored his maiden senior goal in a 6-0 thrashing of Feyenoord.
But his real breakthrough was during the 2012/13 season when he became a first-team regular at just 21 years old.
Career Breakthrough and Rise to Stardom
Van Dijk’s accomplished performances at the heart of Groningen’s defense attracted interest from several clubs across Europe. Scottish giants Celtic won the race for his signature in June 2013 for a fee believed to be around £2.6 million.
The Dutchman was an instant hit at Celtic Park, scoring on his competitive debut against Aberdeen. His aerial prowess, composure on the ball, and organizational skills made him a fans’ favorite. In his two seasons at Celtic, van Dijk won two Scottish Premiership titles, a Scottish League Cup, and the Scottish Cup.
Van Dijk’s success at Celtic earned him a big-money move to Premier League club Southampton in September 2015 for a fee of £13 million. He adapted seamlessly to the rigors of English football and was named Saints’ captain in his first season.
Liverpool and Manchester City were among the top clubs circling for his signature after his commanding displays in defense.
Controversially, van Dijk pushed for a transfer away from Southampton in the summer of 2017. He handed in a transfer request and even trained alone at one stage due to the saga.
Premier League Liverpool were accused of tapping him up and issued an apology. But the Reds finally got their man in January 2018 for £75 million – a world-record fee for a defender at the time.
Liverpool Switch and European Glory
Van Dijk’s move to Anfield proved the catalyst for Liverpool’s return to the pinnacle of European football under manager Jurgen Klopp. In his very first Merseyside derby, van Dijk scored a dramatic late winner against rivals Everton at Goodison Park.
His commanding presence helped shore up Liverpool’s previously leaky defense as they reached the 2018 Champions League final, before losing 3-1 to Real Madrid.
The following season, van Dijk was instrumental as Liverpool edged an intense Premier League title race with Manchester City, finishing runners-up by just a point. But European glory was secured in June 2019 as van Dijk marshalled the Reds defense in a 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League final.
Van Dijk was also inspirational as Liverpool finally ended their 30-year wait for a league title in the 2019/20 season. Despite seeing the campaign curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Liverpool finished 18 points clear of 2nd placed Man City.
Van Dijk amassed 99 points – the second highest in Premier League history. The 2019/20 season also saw him win the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup with the Reds.
As a measure of his importance to Liverpool, van Dijk’s long-term knee injury suffered in October 2020 derailed their title defense as they finished 3rd. But the Dutch colossus returned even stronger last season, narrowly missing out on a quadruple as Liverpool won both domestic cups but were pipped to the league and Champions League by Man City.
National Team Stardom
After switching allegiance from the Netherlands to Suriname in 2011, van Dijk reverted back to play for his country of birth in 2015. He made his senior international debut against Iceland on October 9, 2015 and scored his first goal against England later that month.
Van Dijk was made captain of his country by manager Ronald Koeman in 2018. He led the Netherlands to the final of the inaugural UEFA Nations League in 2019 where they were beaten 1-0 by Portugal. His commanding presence gives the Oranje a platform to challenge at major tournaments like the World Cup and European Championships.
Playing Style and Strengths
Standing at 6ft 4in tall, van Dijk combines supreme physical traits with technical quality making him the prototype modern defender. His greatest attributes include:
- Aerial ability – Dominant in the air both defensively and offensively. His heading prowess offers a great attacking threat from set-pieces.
- Tackling – Timely, crunching challenges have become a van Dijk trademark. His positioning enables excellent reading of the game to make interceptions.
- Leadership – Assumes responsibility as captain of both club and country. His communication marshals the defensive line authoritatively.
- Composure – Always in control. Van Dijk’s unruffled nature gives his team confidence in possession during intense pressure.
- Distribution – Excellent range of passing with both feet allows him to initiate attacks from the back. Technique and vision to switch play.
- Recovery pace – Deceptively quick across the ground. His long strides enable recovery speed to catch the fastest attackers.
Van Dijk’s unique blend of physical and technical qualities make him potentially the most complete defender of the modern era. His presence gives teams a solid foundation at the back to build from.
Records and Milestones
- Most expensive defender in football history following £75 million move to Liverpool in January 2018.
- Second highest points tally (99) ever in a Premier League season with Liverpool in 2019/20.
- First Dutch player to score on his debut for England’s two most successful clubs – Liverpool and Manchester United.
- First defender to win UEFA Men’s Player of the Year in 2019. Also PFA Players’ Player of the Year the same year.
- Named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year four consecutive times between 2018-2021.
- Captained Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2019 and the Premier League title in 2020.
- Surpassed 100 Premier League clean sheets in fewer games than any other defender in history (177).
- Won UEFA Nations League runner-up medal with Netherlands in 2019. Appointed national team captain in 2018.
Individual Honors and Accolades
- UEFA Men’s Player of the Year: 2019
- UEFA Defender of the Season: 2018–19
- PFA Players’ Player of the Year: 2018–19
- FIFA The Best Men’s Player: 2019 (2nd place)
- FIFA FIFPro World XI: 2019
- Eredivisie Talent of the Year: 2013
Virgil van Dijk’s journey to become one of the world’s best defenders has been remarkable. From humble beginnings playing on the streets of his small Dutch village to gracing the pitches of Celtic, Southampton, and Liverpool, he has shown dedication to perfecting his craft.
A commanding presence at the heart of defense, van Dijk’s unique physical and technical attributes have made him a transformative figure for his teams. He has played an integral role in Liverpool’s re-emergence as a major force in European football under Jurgen Klopp. Lifting the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup, and Premier League has cemented his legendary status at Anfield.
Internationally, van Dijk will hope to translate his club success to the world stage by leading a talented Netherlands team to future honors. Already their captain and talismanic leader, his commanding displays in defense could be key if they are to add a second World Cup and European Championship to their honor roll.
At just 31 years old, the imperious van Dijk undoubtedly has his best years ahead. His journey to the very pinnacle of European soccer is an inspirational one – a testament to the heights that can be achieved through hard work, perseverance, and a relentless quest for improvement. There is no doubt van Dijk will be remembered as one of the greatest defenders of the modern era.
Frequently Asked Questions
When and where was Virgil van Dijk born?
Virgil van Dijk was born on 8 July 1991 in Breda, a city in the southern Netherlands. He grew up in the small village of Willemstad.
What position does van Dijk play?
Van Dijk plays as a center-back. He excels as the anchor in defense with his aerial prowess and reading of the game.
Which club did van Dijk make his professional debut for?
Van Dijk made his professional debut on 29 May 2011 for FC Groningen against ADO Den Haag in the Eredivisie – the top division in the Netherlands.
When did van Dijk make his international debut?
He made his senior international debut for the Netherlands on 9 October 2015 in a 2-0 win over Iceland in a Euro 2016 qualifier.
What is van Dijk’s market value?
Currently, van Dijk’s market value stands at an estimated £72 million, making him one of the most valuable defenders in football history.
How many trophies has van Dijk won with Liverpool?
Since joining Liverpool in 2018, van Dijk has won a total of six major trophies – the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, Premier League, FA Cup, and League Cup.
What individual honors has van Dijk received?
His major individual honors include the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year (2019), PFA Players’ Player of the Year (2019), and UEFA Defender of the Season (2018-19).
How much did Liverpool pay to sign van Dijk?
Liverpool paid Southampton a world record £75 million fee for a defender to acquire van Dijk’s services in January 2018.
What number shirt does van Dijk wear for Liverpool?
Van Dijk wears the number 4 shirt for Liverpool. He has worn this number ever since his move to Anfield in 2018.