Manchester United legend Jaap Stam has admitted Virgil van Dijk might be a better defender than he was.
The 28-year-old Dutch centre-back is widely considered the best in his position across world football and finished runners-up to Lionel Messi in the recent Ballon d’Or voting.
Why does Stam rate Van Dijk? Five things to know…
- Virgil van Dijk joined Liverpool in January 2018 for a then world-record fee (£75m) paid to sign a defender.
- Van Dijk’s first full season (2018/19) saw him named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year.
- He also played a key role to help Liverpool win their sixth European Cup last season.
- Van Dijk has since finished runners-up to Lionel Messi for the 2019 Ballon d’Or.
- Stam has praised Van Dijk for “starting at smaller teams” and working his way up.
Since moving to Anfield in January 2018 the Breda-born footballer has been a near ever-present under Jurgen Klopp and has played a significant role in their recent successes, which includes winning the club’s sixth European Cup.
Van Dijk hasn’t missed a single minute of Premier League football this season as the Reds sit eight points atop of the table, with the club yet to suffer defeat and only dropping points at Old Trafford, where Stam enjoyed a short but trophy-laden spell.
The towering Dutchman was pivotal to Man Utd winning their now historic treble in 1999, which happened to be his first season as a Red Devil. Since his retirement Dutch football has cried out for a central defender of equal stature.
The country’s prayers have since been answered in the guise of Van Dijk, a late bloomer who didn’t progress through one of the nation’s ‘big three’ clubs (Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV), which has impressed Stam.
The ex-Feyenoord manager has lauded Van Dijk for taking an unconventional route in Dutch football. And, watching his development from afar, he recognises the similarities between the Liverpool man and himself, but feels his compatriot might just be playing at a level he never reached.
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“It’s always been discussed in Holland and everybody was saying: ‘we need another defender like Jaap’, and eventually, Virgil came out and he started late,” he told Stadium Astro.
“He didn’t grow up in the academy of a PSV or Ajax. He built his own career by starting at smaller teams and eventually going to Scotland as well and then coming into the UK. You need to work for yourself and he did it.
“Yeah, maybe [he’s] even better, I don’t know. But Virgil is a presence. That’s very important as a football player if you want to play in the highest leagues and the biggest clubs.
“Positioning yourself is very important. In possession but also out of possession because it helps you a lot. You get more time to do things as well and he’s doing a fantastic job.”