Virgil van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk has had a difficult few months at Southampton – but will quickly put that behind him.

Liverpool have agreed to pay Southampton £75m for Dutch central defender Virgil van Dijk.

It is a world record fee for a defender and will see him move to Anfield after two and a half years at the Saints.

Neil McGuinness works for the Qatar Football Association, but in 2013 was a senior scout at Celtic who was responsible for indentifying the player and his subsequent move from Dutch side Groningen to Celtic Park.

Here he explains why he thinks the Reds have signed a player who can help them move to the next level, what he can still do to improve and why he is reminiscent of former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand.

When did you first become aware of Van Dijk?

Virgil van Dijk playing for Groningen in 2012

Van Dijk is not the only famous player to have started at Groningen – Ronald Koeman, Arjen Robben and Luis Suarez have all played for the club

I had started to take note of Virgil back in the middle of 2011 when he was just making his way into the first team at Groningen, mainly appearances from the bench at that time, and I was instantly intrigued by his shape and style.

He went on to become a regular member of the first team and I eventually flew over to watch him in an away game against Vitesse Arnhem in early February 2013.

The specific reason I picked this game was because he was up against [Swansea striker] Wilfried Bony, who at the time was the top scorer in the Dutch league and a really physical striker, so it made sense to see him against the best forward in the league.

He did very well against him in that match and showed everything that I had already seen in him from watching previous games.

He basically confirmed to me that day that he could be a successful player in British football. He had pace, power, height, good feet, and could defend.

Still to this day I am amazed that nobody had taken him out of Groningen sooner.

What kind of defender have Liverpool agreed to sign?

Virgil van Dijk takes a free kick when playing for Celtic

At 6ft 4in Van Dijk is known for winning headers – less well-known is his ability to take free-kicks

He’s everything you would want if you could create a profile of the ideal central defender.

Now 26, he is tall, imposing and very strong in his aerial challenges, both in attack and defence. He has no problems with the physical side of the game and likes to dominate his opponents.

The defender is quick both in acceleration and sustained pace over distance. Virgil is good with his feet and has a great range of passing out from the back, both long and short, and he is accurate with it as well.

Technically he is a very smooth ball-playing defender which is something Liverpool have lacked in recent years.

He is capable of playing as either the right or left-sided centre-back, but most usually deployed in the left centre-back role, although he is right footed.

He will be the dominant centre-back in most pairings due to his height and leap which is impressive in itself.

One thing that fans in England will not have seen too much is his ability from set pieces which is very good.

I watched him many times in training working on these and for such a big guy, he hits free-kicks with real power and accuracy, swerve and dip.

Rio Ferdinand with the Premier League trophy

Rio Ferdinand won six Premier League titles with Manchester United

He is also very comfortable going on runs from the back, which is another aspect fans will not have seen too much in the Premier League.

He has strong leadership qualities, always talking on the pitch and he doesn’t make that many mistakes which is an area that sets him apart from most central defenders.

For me the glowing comparison is Rio Ferdinand. Both are similar shapes, both good with the ball, both quick and strong in the air.

Rio was the player that sprung to mind when I first started watching Virgil and if he can have half the career Rio did, he will have been a success.

How will he fit in at Liverpool?

Virgil van Dijk wins a header against Liverpool

Will Dejan Lovren find himself partnering Van Dijk in the centre of Liverpool’s defence?

He adds a new dimension to the team and has a style that manager Jurgen Klopp will be keen to exploit.

Liverpool have a few central defenders – possibly too many now – with Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez.

I think the potential casualty from last season’s starting partnership might be Lovren. I can see Klopp favouring the partnership of Matip, who he knows and likes well from his time in Germany, and Van Dijk. He will then have two big powerful centre-backs who both have more technical capability on the ball than Lovren does.

What he can bring to the Liverpool back line that it currently lacks is the ability to play out from the back.

He can drive forward with the ball at the same time as being able to spot a 50-60-yard pass and deliver it with accuracy.

This is a huge, key element to his play and it will add a totally different dimension to the team, with Virgil able to exploit the movement of the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.

The other thing he brings to the centre-back pairing is recovery pace, which will allow for a higher line if chosen against certain opponents.

His addition to the defence changes the dynamics of how the team will play and whoever partners him will have some pressure eased when up against the quicker players in the league, knowing that they now have a player alongside them who can keep up with most of the strikers he will face.

Any weaknesses?

Virgil van Dijk is sent off in a match against West Brom

Van Dijk was sent off on New Year’s Eve in a match against West Brom last season

Virgil can be as good as he wants to be and it all comes down to focus.

I notice at times that he can switch off when the game is comfortable. That has been his biggest problem.

This could be perhaps down to the fact that he knows he has the recovery pace to deal with anything that gets in behind him but it is definitely an area he needs to work on and one that sets apart the great defenders from the good ones.

The top players can stay fully tuned in for the entire game and if he can work on becoming a lot more complete in his concentration, he will be at that next level.

He has all the tools you would want for his position, but concentration when his team is in a leading position is an area I would say he could improve in.

How would you describe his character?

In terms of his character he can be the mischievous type, pranks in the dressing room and on the training field.

But those types always fit in well and he will bring good energy with him.

He can come across as shy initially but as he settles into the club he should become a key figure around the training ground and on the park.

He has no problems with screaming at team-mates if they make mistakes but in the same spirit he encourages and looks to bring the confidence of the team up as well.

He is a good fit for what Liverpool currently need and it’s a good fit for his continued development. He has had to mature quickly and has done that well.

Virgil van Dijk

Van Dijk signed a six-year contract with Southampton in 2016

How good can he become?

From when he first arrived in Britain to where he is now is a big difference. He is so much more tactically aware now from having played against better players week-in, week-out.

His anticipation and timing has improved and he is a lot more of an all-rounder, rather than being an individual player who was happy to go on mazy runs out from the back.

He has adapted to the change in level from Scotland to England and has become a much more intelligent defender.

I always thought he had everything needed to go to the top which is why I pushed for Celtic to sign him so hard at the time.

I think perhaps scouts and teams maybe saw him as a gamble back when he was becoming a regular at Groningen and wanted to play the long game, perhaps waiting to see how he got on at a bigger Dutch club like Ajax or PSV Eindhoven.

Neil McGuinness

McGuinness is confident that Van Dijk will succeed at Liverpool despite the large fee

The coaches that I know who worked with him quickly realised just how good a player they had and realised he was destined for bigger things.

The opportunities are all opening up for him now and if he can maintain his work-rate and hunger, he has a huge scope to be remembered as a top player.

I think he is in the top 10 centre-backs in the world – and I honestly believe he can go on to be a great at Liverpool.

News Reporter

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