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Virgil van Dijk's meteoric rise from pot washer to £75m defender

Van Dijk worked as a kitchen hand at the Oncle Jean restaurant in his native city of Breda, where he was urged to forget about football


Virgil van Dijk has gone from restaurant pot washer to world football’s top table – stunning those who felt he would never make it.

Van Dijk became the world’s most expensive defender when Liverpool paid Southampton £75million for the Dutchman, who will earn £10million a year at Anfield.

It is a far cry from a decade ago, when a 16-year-old Van Dijk washed dishes to make ends meet for a few Euros in as he dreamed of making it as a professional footballer.

Van Dijk worked as a kitchen hand at the Oncle Jean restaurant in his native city of Breda, where those in charge tried to convince him to forget about a career in football.

But Van Dijk has had the last laugh, with those who doubted him proud of how he has proved them all wrong with his meteoric rise to the summit of world football.

Van Dijk playing as a youngster (Image: visumarfotoburo etten-leur)

Van Dijk signs for Liverpool (Image: Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Restaurant owner Jacques Lips was stunned when his former employee became the world’s costliest defender, earning £55m over the next five-and-a-half years.

“£75million? I had to repeat the figure when I heard it,” said Lips. “Se-ven-ty fi-ve mil-lion. I still can’t believe it. Absolutely crazy money.

“He was a good worker. He would scrub hard and do his job properly. He was always here on the two busiest nights of the week. He was training hard to try and become a professional and had joined the academy of neighbours Willem II.

“After work, his dad always used to pick him up. I would often tell him he should wash more pots and stop trying to become a professional player.

Ferdi Hoogenboom, Sjon van den Berg and Rik Kleijn (Image: VISUMAR)

Pots are washed in the restaurant (Image: VISUMAR)

“‘Stay here, Virgil’, I used to say. ‘Here you have the opportunity at least to earn a few quid’. He has absolutely made it and I hold my hands up. He deserves everything he is getting.

“Nobody at this place has ever forgotten Virgil. He was a great lad. In fact, we’ve always kept his name and phone number in our work book for temps.

“His name and number is still there. I’ve tried to call him. No not to ask him to come back, I just want to congratulate him.

“I’m so proud of him. He’s now the £75m man in the world of football."

Van Dijk's Celtic shirt in the restaurant (Image: VISUMAR)
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Lips was not the only one of Van Dijk’s former associates left astounded by the defender’s record-breaking move to Liverpool.

Van Dijk’s youth coaches at his first club, WDS in Breda, were just as shocked. Ferdi Hoogeboom, John van den Berg and Rik Kleyn helped nurture the young Van Dijk.

The trio took training twice a week and would coach Van Dijk on a Saturday morning when the aspiring world star of the future was just seven-years-old.

Van Dijk has never forgotten his humble roots and has returned to where it all began for him to say thank-you for helping him on the road to stardom.

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“Despite our coaching, he’s made it!” joked van den Berg. “Last year he turned up here with his signed Holland shirt. That was very emotional.

"He came to show his respect for his very first club and the people at this club who helped him. I’m not surprised he’s become a central defender. When he was seven he was bigger and stronger than the others.

“He was always in a central position. He would direct the play and take care of everything at the back. As he got older, he was so much stronger than the others. Physically he was head and shoulders above any other team mate or opponent."

Van Dijk in action for Groningen (Image: Getty)

Virgil van Dijk moved on to Celtic (Image: Getty)

After leaving Breda, Van Dijk joined the academy at neighbours Willem II, where he was told he would never make the grade and was forced to move 200 miles to FC Groningen.

After impressing there, Van Dijk earned a move to Celtic and then Southampton, where his performances convinced Liverpool to spend on him a world record fee for a defender.

Van Dijk used to clean up in his part-time job as a teenager, with Liverpool now hoping he can rinse their rivals and provide them with a platform for a fresh period of success.

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