Well guys, not a big surprise. I think Virgil got twice as many votes as the number 2. I respect your choices of course.
You all nicely kept the blog up to date this last week or so, while I was slaving away to make some bucks to maintain this blog (hint hint) you kept us up to speed with the different draws, the Liverpool-Everton derby and more. Thanks.
The man who got the assist vs Everton (….) won the poll and will be our first “Dutch Best International of the Year”. A new “thing” on our blog. And as promised, an interview with the new Captain Fantastic. Thanks to Blendle.com and the amazing sports magazine Helden (Heroes), by Frits and Barbara Barend.
What a year is was for Virgil van Dijk. This time last year, the big money move to Liverpool, becoming the most expensive defender on the planet. Then, five months later playing the Champions League finals. And Ronald Koeman named him captain of the new Oranje, while Klopp also gave him the band, most recently vs Everton. Life is kind for Virgil.
And the new skipper of Oranje is now a big man in England. Walking the streets in his town is not longer an option and every great pass or every failed pass will be accompanied by commentary about the fee Liverpool paid for him. 85 mio euros, in case you forgot. When we meet him at the Liverpool training complex, he is the perfect host. “Can I get you something to drink?” And when he sees some kids who won a prize to watch Liverpool’s practice session, he goes to them, puts his arms around them for a selfie and laughs. “What is better than giving children the day of their lives…?”
For the photo session, Virgil looks straight in the lens, with his hair in the typical Virgil man-bun. Can we get one without the hair tie? “I usually wear my hair loose at home, but once I’m going to the club, the hair tie goes in. But, if you make some good pics, I’ll let my hair out.” And during the photo session, he talks passionately. “There is no better job in the world than pro football player, at Liverpool and Oranje. What can be better? Yes, we have moments when it’s tough, or you’r tired but I do all I can to see the fun side of it all. This is so special and it is only for a short time, really. So it’s key to enjoy every minute.”
Lots of athletes forget to enjoy it, as they always have to deal with pressure…
Virgil: “I don’t have that. I don’t suffer the pressure, must be tough to have that. And it becomes easier, in some way. The Liverpool move should have added pressure probably, but it’s not. When you’re young, you tend to think about all that can go wrong, I don’t have that anymore. I know what is important in life.”
What is that?
“Family! When my family is happy and doing well, I am too. Football really is number 2 for me. Family is always #1. En that will always be that way. My daughters give me so much. And my wife is the centre of the family. She is the playmaker, haha. And I value her tremendously. A footballer’s wife always needs to be strong, positive and happy. I realise this. But we simply can’t stroll through the park, or go out for a glass of wine. We are still young, but we never go out. The first two weeks in Liverpool, we were at this hotel and within a day, the media, paparazzi and the fans were in the hotel lobby. So, in all seriousness, I am not going into the city, ever. But, I am not complaining, the benefits outweigh the negatives by a country mile, hahaha.”
Does Mrs Van Dijk work?
“No, we decided that she wouldn’t. If she really would want to, sure, I would never stop her, but we train at different times, so it could be that I’m away at night while she works in the morning and it would be hard to have a relationship. We like it as it is.”
In what way were you influenced by the fact that your dad left the family when you were so young?
“That plays a role. For sure. What exactly happened is private and I won’t tell the media. It’s nobody’s business. But my father is no longer in my life. That definitely plays a role in how I am with my kids. I will never abandon my kids. Never. I will always be there for them.”
Do your girls know exactly what daddy does for a living?
“Ha, well the youngest….no. She is two years old, but the oldest does know. Whenever people line up for autographs, she will say “Daddy needs to do some signing”. Recently we were at Disneyland and people wanted a picture, so she is like “Daddy needs to make a selfie with people” hahaha. And we have our family box at Anfield and she is there when we play. I wave at her when I enter the pitch and she waves back.”
You never seem to publish photos of yourself with the family?
“That is on purpose. I will not share anything private on social media. They don’t have a say in this and I don’t want them to become the kid of a famous dad or something. We keep information and photos to ourselves. And you know, it’s not just the fans who want to see these pics, there are also the haters, you know.”
Back to the past: you basically grew up next to the NAC stadium in Breda, but never player for NAC.
“Well I did, once when I was seven. I had a practice session there with two friends. We had had a youth coach who was yelling and screaming all the time. I was scared of the guy. And I decided I didn’t wanna go to NAC, hahaha. I couldn’t handle that. I was a wee kid, really little. And two weeks later I had a practice session at Willem II. That went well, a lovely bunch of people and I got into the so-called talent school.”
Who else was in that?
“Jurgen Locadia, PSV and now Brighton, was part of that. He’s the only one that made it, with me, as a pro.”
Locadia moved from Willem II straight to PSV. You took the long and winding road…
“I always had something or other… Like I said, I was little. Considered too small. I was almost sent away but was offered one last chance. And guess what: that summer I had my growth spurt. And as a result, I got knee issues. We played the big tournaments with Willem II. It was a tremendous time. We never won anything, but we competed. Against Ajax, with Ricardo van Rhijn and Marco Bizot (now AZ) and against Feyenoord with Clasie. I still talk to these guys, it does give some sort of bond, as we all play pro football now.”
You never played for Willem II’s first team. Why did you go to FC Groningen?
“I was second year A Junior, I played there for 10 years and I was hoping to get a contract, but…nothing. And there were several sub top clubs from the Eredivisie interested. Only when Groningen made a move, Willem II quickly offered me a contract. Well, too little, too late. So I decided to go to Groningen. I started in the second team. Rode my bike to the stadium. I lived alone in Groningen and had a wonderful time.”
Groningen is a university city. Lots of young people. Did you notice?
“You bet, hahaha. I was 19 years old… My coach was Dick Lukkien, currently coach of FC Emmen. He’s not unlike Ronald Koeman. Really direct. I learned heaps from him and we still talk. I made my debut in that first year in the first team. And then I got into the spotlights and I loved that aspect as well.”
Did the Top 3 (Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV) ever check you out?
“It’s the summer of 2013 and I wanted to make a move. The logical step was the top 3 of course. I wanted to. I was open to all three clubs. I know Ajax was interested but also checked out Van der Hoorn of Utrecht (now Swansea). They ended up going with him. PSV signed Bruma and Feyenoord had De Vrij, Martins Indi, Van Beek and didn’t want to add me to the mix, also due to their financial woes. And suddenly Celtic came. With a check and a good level of urgency. And they played Champions League football. So I decided to do it. And we played AC Milan, Barcelona and Ajax in that season. I played against those clubs and I played well too.”
And you never played for the Dutch rep teams??!?!
“Well, in all honesty, I wasn’t that good. Seriously, I was not better than the ones who did play. I am a late blossomer.”
Do you ever get upset? Or angry?
“Well not really angry. Definitely not at home. I did get really pissed off recently, when we lost a practice match, 5 v 5. The losers needed to bake a cake. And in the game, I noticed we weren’t going to win. And I realised I had to bake a carrot cake and they would also film that. I almost gave someone a truly nasty kick. I can’t stand losing and my mates and the coaches know this now. They know to leave me alone after a lost match. Don’t make jokes or try to make it all sound as if it doesn’t matter. You’re not doing yourself any favours, hahahaha.”
Ronald Koeman is important in your career. He signed you at the Saints, made you Oranje skipper. But also very critical, like when Giroud scored that goal against you….
“He is allowed to be super critical. I think Koeman is a top coach and he knows how to reach me. I am forever grateful for giving me the opportunity in the EPL. I remember the phone call, when he told me he would sign me from Celtic, but it took time and I waited and waited…”
Was it merely a phone call?
“Yes, we never met. We played qualifiers for the CL. Celtic didn’t want to let me go before we qualified. Only afterwards, Southampton made an offer. And then Celtic said: nah. I got so angry. And late in September I could make my move. He is hands down one of the best coaches I ever worked with, as he is really tough on me and spends a lot of time on me. I have a similar bond now with Klopp at Liverpool. They both demand 100% all the time. Every practice. I love that.”
Do they work a lot on you because of your potential?
“I think so, and I get better with them criticising me, I do see it as a good sign. When we did a pass practice at Southampton, on average, most players would have 6 good passes and 4 stray ones. Koeman didn’t seem to care. But if I had 1 stray pass out of 10, he would come down on me like a thunder storm. I could handle that. He demanded 100% from me.”
What are your weaknesses?
“Hmm, well, I’m not lazy. I think I always work hard, but I can be complacent. Klopp sees it too and is on the alert and my team mates at Liverpool too. James Milner for instance… I told him, I want you to have a right go at me if I am not running back quick enough or seem to be taking things to easy. Just scream in my face, I sometimes need that.”
When did you realise you could become a really big player?
“I think when Koeman told me. He said, if you play without loss of concentration and work 100% hard always, you’ll be moving up from Southampton. And Claude Puel who came after Koeman made me skipper at the Saints.”
That Liverpool move was not a pretty scene though… Lots of problem with Southampton?
“It was hectic because I was quite injured. I never refused to play for Southampton, that was concocted by the media I think. I focused fully on Southampton when I was fit again and played my games and in December, the board allowed me to talk to Liverpool. That was a nice Xmas, we had an extra glass of wine, hahaha.”
The most expensive defender, you become. And you met Gini Wijnaldum at Liverpool. How is your bond?
“Gini is Gini. Always smiling, always happy. We talk a lot. I spoke to him before I came her already, of course. Gini is a good lad, very social and a much much better player than most think. In Holland, he is underrated while in England people recognise his value more and more. He is unbelievably good.”
And then you play the CL finals vs Real Madrid and your goalie has two howlers.
“We went to Oranje straight after so that helped to process it all. And then I went straight on a holiday with my family. We were so close, it did hurt, yes.”
How did Koeman manage to get Oranje to perform as they do?
“It’s his style of coaching, his communication and clarity. Koeman wants to work with a fixed squad, so people know what is expected from them. Sure, when new players suddenly emerge, he will pick them up, like with Dilrosun. The team spirit is amazing, everyone is prepared to walk through fire for their mates. We do a lot of things together and have bonded really well. We talk a lot too, we are becoming closer and closer on and off the pitch. We also have lively tactical talks with Koeman and everyone has a say. We need to hold on to this.”
The move from Noordwijk to Zeist is always mentioned as well…
“And that made a difference, yes. Less distractions. We do more as a team. We have better pitches to work on and the focus is on performing. We also play more games together, not just PlayStation but also table tennis and 30seconds. Everyone wants to win all the time and it’s quite a circus at times. We also have a group app and we can stay in touch like this.”
You ticked off a lot of dreams already, what is next?
“Well, winning trophies. I won three with Celtic. But I also want to win at Wembley one day. I want to win the Champions League and the title here in England. And with Oranje, I want to win a tournament. All big dreams, I know, but if you can’t have big goals, you should stay at home, hahaha.”
Source: Helden Magazine – Barbara Barend