Liverpool’s star defender Virgil van Dijk came “very close” to sealing a transfer to Brighton in 2013, revealed Gus Poyet.
The 27-year-old has transformed the Liverpool backline upon completing a world record £75m transfer from Southampton in January 2017 for a defender and has been regularly mentioned as a worthy winner for this season’s PFA award.
This comes in light of Van Dijk’s aerial prowess, tactical awareness and leadership skills at Anfield, which have helped Liverpool concede just 15 goals in their 29 Premier League games as they chase a first league crown since 1990.
But nearly six years before he arrived at Liverpool, Van Dijk wasn’t even worth a fraction of the £75m that the Reds forked out for him while at Dutch side Groningen.
Poyet, who was the manager of Brighton at the time, did see potential in Van Dijk though and tried to sign him for a figure below €3m.
However, Groningen wouldn’t budge and instead sold the future Netherlands captain to Scottish champions Celtic in June 2013.
“I went to Groningen to watch him,” Poyet told Goal.
“We flew to Holland to watch a game and he was absolutely outstanding. It was so easy for him.
“It was after our first season in the Championship, he would have cost us €3 million and we couldn’t afford him. We had just moved to the Amex and we had a lot of expenses and it was not possible. We were very close.
“When he went to Celtic I wasn’t surprised. When he went to Southampton and then to Liverpool it was a bit of a shock but he always had the potential.
“After the day in Groningen – even after half an hour of watching him – me and my assistant, Mauricio Taricco, thought it would be incredible if we were able to sign him for Brighton.”
Despite his obvious disappointment at missing out on signing Van Dijk, Poyet thinks playing at Celtic and Southampton before joining Liverpool helped make the Dutchman the player he is today.
He added: “He’s had the ideal career progression, too. Sometimes players go to a top team and they have to perform straight away.
“He’s had the right steps – from Celtic to Southampton – a nice progression of knowing the leagues and now he has a chance of being a Premier League winner. Those steps, I think, have helped him become the player he is today.”
Liverpool will face Burnley at Anfield on Sunday for their next Premier League match.