Former Netherlands centre-back Jaap Stam has expressed his delight at how Virgil van Dijk has settled at the top, as “the big teams in Holland didn’t want to buy him.”
When it comes to the best defenders to represent the Dutch national team, few would argue against Stam’s inclusion in any list.
Stam played 66 times for the Netherlands, and was named the Dutch Footballer of the Year in 1997 ahead of his world-record move to Man United from PSV Eindhoven the following year.
He ended his playing career with Ajax in 2006/07, before Van Dijk had established himself as a regular at academy level with Willem II.
Van Dijk eventually left for FC Groningen in 2010, forging a path that has led him to Liverpool.
It was a longer route than many of the world’s best, but it is one that has set Van Dijk apart, with Stam hailing his development from a player not on the radar of the likes of PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord to one widely acknowledged as world class.
“It’s very good to see another Dutch defender going to that height, and developing himself in a certain way,” Stam told ESPN FC.
“Because with Virgil as well, at 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.
“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.”
The decision to head to Celtic was an inspired one, allowing him to hone his craft with reduced pressure, which was similarly the case at Southampton, giving him to platform to justify another world-record fee when Liverpool signed him for £75 million in 2018.
Stam charted Van Dijk’s trajectory from Scotland to England, and how it “tells you something about him.”
“His development there was great, playing in a different league, a very tough league, good players, becoming a better player for himself, for the team,” he said of Van Dijk’s spell at Celtic.
“It also helps the players you’ve got around you. They need to help sometimes as well to become a better player, so you can learn, you can express yourself a lot more.
“Then he made a step to the Premier League, to go to Southampton.
“Again, a tough league, a better league than the Scottish league, better players around him, also against him, and of course it was a great development.
“That tells you something about him, how he is as a person, as a player, because it needs to be in yourself as well that you want to develop, you need to learn from the situations that you are in and he’s done that.
“Now Liverpool, a 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. That’s a very good combination.”