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13th Aug 2018

Gary Neville compares Virgil van Dijk to legendary Manchester United defender

He's not wrong

Robert Redmond

“It looks like he just throws people out of the way.”

Gary Neville has compared Virgil van Dijk to former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam, and he has a point. Van Dijk has been a revelation for Liverpool since joining the club from Southampton in January. The Dutch defender cost £75m, making him the most expensive defender in the world, but very few are still questioning that fee – including Neville.

“I thought Van Dijk was a good player at Southampton, but I didn’t think he was worth £75m,” he said on the Gary Neville podcast.

“And I didn’t think he would have the impact on Liverpool’s defence that he has had. He’s a monster and is looking a bit like Jaap Stam. It looks like he just throws people out of the way.”

Van Dijk was part of the Liverpool team which cruised to a 4-0 win over West Ham on Sunday in their opening game of the new Premier League season. The 27-year-old has played 15 league games for Jurgen Klopp’s team and has kept 10 clean sheets. Liverpool last conceded a league goal at Anfield back in February.

Van Dijk has helped shore-up Liverpool’s defence, which could be rickety at times before his arrival, and he has become a leader for Klopp’s team. His impact at Anfield is similar to Stam’s at Old Trafford 20 years ago.

Like Van Dijk, Stam was the most expensive defender in the world when he moved. He cost United £10.6m from PSV Eindhoven in 1998 and was an essential part of the treble-winning team in his first season. The former Netherlands defender was a member of the United side that won three Premier League titles in a row and Alex Ferguson later admitted he made a mistake when he sanctioned his sale to Lazio in 2001.

“We made an error in letting Jaap Stam go,” the former United boss said in his second autobiography.

“I thought £16.5 million was a good price and I believed he had slipped back in his game since his Achilles operation. But it was a mistake on my part… I had no interest until the offer reached £16.5 million. By that time Jaap was 30 and we were concerned about his recovery from the Achilles injury. Anyway, it proved a disastrous episode. Having to tell him in a petrol station was agony, because I knew he was a really decent man who loved playing for the club, and who was adored by the fans. It was one of my senior moments. I had tried to get hold of him at the training ground two days before deadline day. By the time I reached him on his mobile, he was already on his way home. An equidistant point was a petrol station, off the motorway, so that’s where our meeting took place.”

Stam went on to play for AC Milan and retired when he was 35 after a stint with Ajax. United didn’t adequately replace him until they signed Nemanja Vidic in 2006.

Neville’s comparison between Van Dijk and Stam is apt. Like Van Dijk, Stam was lightning quick, physically imposing, a very good footballer and near-impossible to get past when he was on form.