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Virgil van Dijk & Klopp: Why Liverpool fans shouldn't doubt their £75M ex-dishwasher

COMMENT: Did anyone see that coming from Mohamed Salah? What about Sadio Mane? No? So why all the sudden doubts about Virgil van Dijk?

They say opinion is split. But weigh it up and it seems there's far more landing on the negative side of this £75m deal than those who believe Liverpool have done good business signing the Southampton centre-half.

But what's being missed - and this column was just as guilty a fortnight ago - is the Klopp factor. The manager. Jurgen Klopp. He's proven it over and over again. He makes good players into great ones. No-one predicted the impact of Mane last season. As it was with Salah this time around. Philippe Coutinho has produced his best football under the German. Even Emre Can - Herr Widerwillig - has never played better. So why can't the same happen with Van Dijk?

In Holland, you can understand it. Despite the great press arriving from England, there's many inside the Dutch game who just couldn't see it. After all, the man we see today at 26, was still playing on amatuer forms at Willem II up until he was 19 years of age. To make ends meet, today's multi-millionaire was forced to take a job as a dishwasher. That the Tilburg club now stand to rake in close to €500,000 from this week's sale is sure to irk the Dutchman.

"That really disappointed me," Van Dijk recalled of Willem refusing to put him on pro forms. "Apparently they did not feel that other clubs would want me. Yes, of course it felt like a matter of distrust. As if they did not really see a future for me in professional football.

"They also always let me play in A1 - and I was there for a long time. For me it was clear ... Willem II just weren't bothered."

But what of those who did trust him? Klopp apart, Hans Nijland has been all over the airwaves and press this week happy to indulge in 'I told you so' baiting. It was FC Groningen's GM who took the gamble on signing Van Dijk seven years ago when no other Eredivisie club would go near him. Even more baffling for Nijland is that three years later, it was Celtic - not Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord - who came in for the young stopper.

"The top Dutch clubs only casually asked about him," Nijland revealed this week. "They were never serious. For example, Ajax took Mike van der Hoorn (now with Swansea City) from Utrecht rather than Van Dijk."

He continued: "Van Dijk played just so easily with us. It took him no time to conquer the Eredivisie.

"In his initial time with us, it was trial and error - but you get that with most young players. And when he was given his chance, he grabbed it."

And this is what you fancy Klopp has seen. Every level Van Dijk has stepped up to, he has "conquered". From A1 to the Eredivisie, to the SPL and to the Premier League. He's met the challenge. Now it's going from Southampton to the domestic and European demands of Liverpool. And nothing in Van Dijk's CV suggests he'll stumble.

"What makes him so special is his physique, which is clear," adds Nijland, "he is almost unbeatable in the air, but he also reads the game very well and can pass the ball well."

Since reaching terms, Klopp has spoken of Van Dijk's "character". He knows he's getting a good 'un. Just compare Van Dijk's behaviour in preseason after Saints blocked his transfer request to the antics of Diego Costa at the low point of his saga between Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. Or even this week's decision by Marouane Fellaini to carry out contract negotiations with Manchester United through the European press.

In contrast, we never heard a peep from Van Dijk. He just kept his own counsel - even when Mauricio Pellegrino, the Saints manager, banished him to the U23s. He just put his head down and worked. The only sign of a protest was that tweet from Van Dijk, upon learning of Southampton's tapping up claim, of him on a flight with an empty thought bubble. Of course he wanted the move. Of course he was angry and disappointed. But he never took it out on the club nor his manager.

Van Dijk even took a Dutch journalist to task for misquoting him back in October claiming the Anfield move was back on.

"It was not my words and I would never say that," he said at the time. "I once experienced this at Celtic, that my words were completely twisted, as is the case.

"I came across as a spoiled brat, who was just busy looking at options to make a transfer in the winter. I'm not like that. It was not my words and I would never say that. My focus is fully focused on Southampton."

And this is why Klopp pushed so hard to land him. Van Dijk is a proper footballer. A LFC footballer. And the sort of player and character who has always responded to Klopp's methods.

From dishwasher to Anfield. He's the sort of grounded lad Klopp loves to work with. After what the manager has done with Mane and Salah, don't doubt he cannot do the same with Virgil van Dijk.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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