Virgil van Dijk joined the Reds after forging a reputation as one of the most accomplished centre-backs in the Premier League during two-and-a-half years with Southampton.
The Netherlands international, born in Breda on July 8, 1991, took his first steps in football in the youth ranks at Willem II – the southern-based club with whom Sami Hyypia plied his trade before moving to Merseyside.
But it was at FC Groningen where Van Dijk’s pathway in the professional game began in earnest from 2010, with a first-team debut achieved on May 1 of the following year as a second-half substitute against ADO Den Haag.
More opportunities from the bench came his way in the remainder of that season, one which ended in a frustrating penalty shootout defeat in the Eredivisie’s Europa League play-offs final despite the young defender scoring twice after starting in the second leg.
Over the course of the next two terms, Virgil first established himself as a regular in the Groningen team and then developed into one of its key members, playing 34 league games in 2012-13, though their attempts to qualify for European football were again thwarted in the post-season.
Call-ups to the Netherlands’ U19 and U21 sides came his way too, and by the summer of 2013 the towering defender’s performances had piqued the interest of scouts from across the continent.
Celtic proved to be his next destination after a deal was agreed with Groningen – and Van Dijk’s two campaigns with the Scottish giants could not be considered anything other than a resounding success.
His first appearance of 2013-14 was as a substitute in the season-opening 2-0 win at Aberdeen. Virgil went on to start 35 of the other 37 fixtures as the Bhoys surged to the title by 29 points and with only one defeat and 25 goals conceded.
The switch to Scotland also provided Van Dijk with his maiden experience of Champions League football, Celtic emerging from the qualifiers to contest a formidable group containing AC Milan, Ajax and Barcelona.
Five defeats in six group-stage games left Celtic to lick their wounds, but the centre-back and his teammates continued their domestic dominance into the next campaign and earned even greater rewards.
Virgil missed only three matches as his team again topped the pile, by a reduced margin of 17 points but having conceded only 17 times. The League Cup was added to the trophy cabinet for good measure as Dundee United were beaten in the final.
And for all Van Dijk’s influence in preventing goals at one end, the defender exhibited his ability to knock them in at the other – 10 in all competitions, in fact.
By the summer of 2015, other clubs had again begun to circle around the Dutch defender and it was Southampton who won the race for his signature on September 1 that year.
If there was any doubt that he could step up to the demands of the Premier League they were demolished during a debut season on the south coast that ended with the centre-back being voted Saints’ Player of the Season by both supporters and teammates.
Now a senior Netherlands international too, Van Dijk maintained his stellar form in the opening months of 2016-17 but a foot injury at the turn of the year largely ruined his campaign – and subsequent speculation surrounding his future curtailed his frequency in the line-up.
In December 2017, Liverpool and Southampton announced a deal had been agreed for the Dutchman to move to Anfield, and having officially signed on the first day of 2018 he brings his blend of power and poise to the club in time for the second half of the season.