Exclusive Van Dijk interview: I want to be remembered as a Liverpool legend

The Dutch defender spoke to SPORT about his path to the top of the game

Van Dijk derrota a Messi y Cristiano y se convierte en elganador del Premio al Jugador del Año de la UEFA | Perform

Virgil van Dijk is possibly the best defender in the world. There's a special aura about him, a calm that comes from his roots in Surinam (like Davids, Kluivert, Wijnaldum) and is hugely experienced. Not only is he a really good footballer, but his story is also interesting. 

Guillem Balagué

@GuillemBalague

Born in Breda, you played for Willem II's academy before joining Groningen in 2010? Was your talent discovered quickly? 

Not at all! When I was young I wasn't so tall until I had a growth spurt. At 16, my little brother was taller than me, but during the summer I turned 17 I grew 18cms! I struggled to run normally. My knee was a little unstable. I had problems with my groin. I needed rehabilitation work and was out for six weeks. It was like living in another body. After all that, I started to play well. 

Were you always a centre-back?

At 16, I was a right-back and I wasn't good enough to play as a centre-back. I never stood out as a player until I got to the U19s and was named captain. Sometimes I played as a full-back, other times in the middle. From there, everything got much better. I played for the U23s and everything accelerated. 

How was life as a teenager?

When I was at Groningen I had to go to training on a bicycle. I used my first salary to do my driving test. And in fact, before signing my first contract, at about 16, I was working washing pots in a restaurant in Breda. I was training Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, playing Saturdays and working Wednesdays and Sundays, from six until midnight. I wanted money to go out on Saturday night. I was earning around €350 a month and I was happy with that. I could go to McDonald's and pay for my friends. I started to realise how important money could be, even though it's not the most important thing. 

All of a sudden you had a serious case of appendicitis...

I was in the hospital for 13 nights and it was really hard. It was complicated, I ended up with a stomach infection. It was crazy. It happened on April 1, 2012 (April Fools' Day), so that didn't help either. I could not do anything at all for at least 10 days, I couldn't walk. The first time I could get out of bed, I went 10 metres and was out of breath and tired like an old man. After a month I returned to training and worked with the physios to recover my muscle strength. After that, I played the entire season and went to Celtic. 

As your reputation grow, did more people want to be involved in your circle? 

I have known my best friend since I was 12 or 13. He's going to become a father soon, so I am really happy for him. If I need him, he's always there. If he needs me, he knows where to find me. I have a small circle around me. The higher you go as a player, the bigger the attention on you. Many people that you've met once or twice want to be involved in your life. I have a fantastic wife that also knows how to see all of this and doesn't let me make any mistakes. 

Your mother was born in Surinam, independent from Holland since 1975. How does she feel?

My mother is completely Surinamese and my father completely Dutch. I went to Surinam a couple of times and enjoyed it. We go every now and again to see my mother's family and I feel at home. I would like to take my kids there soon. Life is relaxed there, slow, I think I have a little bit of that about me. 

There are a lot of players with the same roots: Patrick Kluivert, Ruud Gullit, Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf

I see things in common. We're all relaxed and give a lot of importance to the small things. We have our lives in order in a similar way, the family is very important. 

I have read that you love Disney. It's quite a contrast to your life as a footballer... 

I like Disney films and I love taking my kids to Disneyland. Seeing them so happy makes my day. I was seven or eight when I went there for the first time and it was fantastic but we did not go much as it was so expensive. I took my wife when we first started dating. We got drunk in a hotel ... it was memorable. I like simple things so why complicate things? Why be negative when you can enjoy life and be positive? That's something I have learned with the years. I always try to be positive. Life is too short to always look at the negatives. 

What do you see outside of the bubble that footballers live in?

Things are changing so quickly. The influence of social media is incredible. It's sad to see that there are people living a false life, but at the same time it serves to unite people and intentions, it can even help others. We lack empathy. But maybe little by little, we will learn that we are all equal and that life is better in company and we will take care of each other. 

How would you like to be remembered? 

As a Liverpool legend. I want to achieve incredible things here. We have a fantastic team, we don't lack anything, we have all the tools necessary to on winning: a coach that we identify with, a versatile squad, a style of play that breeds victories, a stadium and supporters that play their part. Yes, I would like to be one of those players that return to Anfield after retiring. I see club legends at games and I feel part of a really big family.  

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