Virgil van Dijk better than Manchester United legend Nemanja Vidic, says Liverpool star’s former boss Pieter Huistra

12 Jun

Virgil van Dijk is better than Manchester United legend Nemanja Vidic ever was, according to the Liverpool star’s former manager.

The Dutchman has been widely praised for helping the Reds win a sixth European Cup in his first full season at Anfield.

Virgil van Dijk and co beat Tottenham 2-0 in the Champions League final earlier this month
Getty

Van Dijk’s form, since completing a £75million move from Southampton in January 2018, has led to comparisons with Vidic, who won five Premier League titles with United during a hugely successful eight-year spell in England.

But Pieter Huistra, who gave Van Dijk his senior debut with Dutch club Groningen in 2011, thinks the defender ‘has more’ to his game than Vidic.

He told talkSPORT.com: “I’m bias anyway, so I would choose Virgil. He has more, he has a little bit more.

“Vidic, of course, without any doubt was a very good player, he played in a top team.

“In my view, Virgil has everything. He has the flair, he has the technique, he has the passing, he has the defensive leadership, he has the personality that catches people’s eye.

“I just admire the strengths of certain players.

Nemanja Vidic is regarded as one of the Premier League’s greatest ever defenders
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“There have been very good defenders in the Premier League and when you [Van Dijk] are talked about in that group of players then it’s a good honour.”

Van Dijk featured in Willem II’s youth teams before Huistra took him to Groningen in 2010.

After starring in Groningen’s reserve team, he made his senior debut at the back-end of the 2010/11 season.

Former Rangers winger Huistra said: “When he went to Groningen he left his home, so for him it was a big step at that time, two-and-a-half hours away from his mother, who he’s close to.

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“In Groningen he was living with another player. For somebody at 18, 19 it’s a big step, he had to learn to cook for himself and look after himself.

“He came into a new environment, he had to get used to how things work. He picked it up and in the reserve team, the coaches helped him a lot.

“I saw him play every week in the reserves, everyone could see that he would become a first-team player.

“He trained with the first-team for the last two months of the season and came on as a substitute and then started a few games. It was a natural progression. He worked hard and became a better footballer.

Virgil van Dijk starred for Groningen at a young age
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“We saw that he had some good qualities on the ball; his passing and his heading was already very good.

“His positioning as a defender had to improve, but he was willing to learn and listen and he improved quickly. He wanted to become better so that’s always a good characteristic.”

Huistra, now assistant manager at Pakhtakor Tashkent FK in Uzbekistan, left Groningen in 2012 – and Van Dijk departed a year later to join Celtic.

Pieter Huistra gave Virgil van Dijk his senior debut in football
Getty

Impressive spells with the Hoops and Southampton saw Van Dijk become the world’s most expensive when he joined the Reds for £75million.

He was part of a defence that conceded just 22 league goals last season and his heroics in Liverpool’s Champions League triumph over Tottenham have made him a contender for this year’s Ballon d’Or.

Van Dijk, who will be competing against world superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the award, could become just the fourth defender to win the prestigious prize.

Huistra, 52, added: “He’s one of the contenders. There are always other players as well, but he should certainly be considered.

“A defender is often overlooked, but defending is a very important part of football. Attacking always starts from the defenders. Virgil is important in that, he can direct from the back.

“I always said to my central defenders, ‘you’re always the playmakers of the team, you decide how the attack will start’.

“So if you have a defender like Virgil, who is quick and direct and has a good diagonal pass or a pass in behind the opposition, it’s very effective and important.”

Virgil van Dijk: Brighton could have signed Liverpool star, but couldn’t afford the €3m fee, Gus Poyet tells talkSPORT

1 May

Gus Poyet has revealed to talkSPORT he could have signed Virgil van Dijk for just €3million when he was manager of Brighton.

Only, the south coast club couldn’t afford it!

Van Dijk has established himself as one of the best defenders in the world

Van Dijk has proved to be worth every penny of the £75million Liverpool paid for him in January 2018, with the Netherlands international recently crowned the PFA Player of the Year.

He arrived at Anfield from Southampton, who signed the commanding centre-back from Scottish champions Celtic in 2015 for £13m – but it appears he may have arrived in England much earlier in his career had Brighton boasted a bigger budget.

Then in the Championship, ex-Seagulls boss Gus Poyet travelled to the Netherlands to watch Van Dijk in action, and he liked what he saw.

Speaking on Wednesday’s Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast, Poyet said: “I went to see Van Dijk at Groningen when I was coach at Brighton.

“We went all the way up to Groningen to watch the game, and it was too easy for him. He was already incredible.

“But he was too expensive for Brighton. He was €3million at that time!”

Instead, he joined Celtic for the same fee, paving the way for his eventual move to Anfield where he has quickly become a Kop hero.

Van Dijk has made a stunning impact on the Liverpool back-four and has been one of the key reasons why they are up there with Manchester City challenging for the Premier League title.

The Reds have conceded just 20 goals in the Premier League this season – the fewest of any team in the top flight.

And he will be hoping to help Liverpool keep another clean sheet when they take on Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday night – with LIVE talkSPORT commentary from the Nou Camp.

‘My life was at risk’ – How PFA Player of the Year Virgil van Dijk nearly DIED in 2012 after suffering with appendicitis, peritonitis and a kidney infection

29 Apr

PFA Player of the Year Virgil van Dijk may well be the best defender in the world at this moment in time, but is lucky to be alive.

The Liverpool centre-half was crowned as the best player in the Premier League by his colleagues on Sunday evening after a stellar season.

Virgil van Dijk is lucky to be alive after required life-saving surgery in 2012

Physically imposing, calm on the ball and a natural leader of men, Van Dijk is a worthy winner of the prestigious award.

However, it could have all been so different. While at Groningen in the Netherlands, the 27-year-old required life-saving surgery after a ruptured appendix caused appendicitis, peritonitis and a kidney infection.

His reserve team coach and mentor Dick Lukkien reveals just how close Van Dijk came to death.

“Virgil was ill, but we didn’t know the extent – at first we thought he had the flu,” Lukkien told FourFourTwo. “He was at home for a few days and in lots of pain.

Van Dijk impressed his coaches at Groningen with his physical abilities and technical skills

“He went to the local hospital but they couldn’t find anything, so sent him back home again. The pain got worse and when his mum travelled to see him, she realised how bad the situation was.

“She took him to another hospital, which turned out to be crucial.”

After making his first team debut in May 2011, it became clear just how special Van Dijk was. During a Europa League qualifying game just a month later, the Dutchman scored twice while playing as an auxiliary forward.

Although he had been ambitiously targeting a move to La Liga, Van Dijk was now battling appendicitis, peritonitis and a kidney infection. Surgeons performed a life-saving operation, but he was still in serious danger.

The 27-year-old always wanted a move to La Liga

“I still remember lying in that bed,” he recalled a few months later. “The only thing I could see were tubes dangling out from me.

“My body was broken and I couldn’t do anything. At such a moment, the worst scenarios are whizzing around your head. For the first time in my life, football was very much a side issue. My life was at risk.

My mum and I prayed to God and discussed possible scenarios. At some point I had to sign some papers. It was a kind of testament. If I died, a part of my money would go to my mum.

“Of course, nobody wanted to talk about it, but we had to do that. It could have been over.”

Seven years on, Van Dijk is now Netherlands captain and considered one of the best in the world

Thankfully, the youngster pulled through. But it came at a physical price as the surgery drained his 6ft 4ins frame.

“I was shocked,” says Lukkien. “When he returned to the club he had changed from a big man into a shrivelled person. Luckily he managed to recover quite quickly.”

His recovery has seen him earn moves to Celtic, Southampton and then finally to Anfield. At £75million, critics baulked at the price Jurgen Klopp paid.

But Van Djk has been proving his critics wrong all his life.