Virgil van Dijk ‘struggled to lose weight’: Ex team-mate reveals secrets on Liverpool move

Respected Sky Sports journalist Hunter met with one of Van Dijk’s former team-mates at a Soccerex conference in 2016 where he got the inside track.

The former team-mate, who Hunter refused to name, revealed Van Dijk struggled with losing weight in the early days of his career but he always ‘knew his friend would want a move to Liverpool’.

Van Dijk broke on to the scene at Dutch club Groningen before moving to Celtic in 2013, where he spent two years. The Dutch centre-back subsequently earned a call-up to the national team and a £13million move to Southampton.

Although in the final days at St Mary’s it turned sour as Van Dijk’s desire to move to Liverpool resulted in a £75m world-record move – the highest for a defender – last week.

Hunter told The Transfer Window podcast: “He wanted to be at Liverpool. At Soccerex in Qatar I met a former team-mate of Van Dijk’s and he described to me the struggle he went through to lose weight, to not play overweight, to become a dedicated professional and the degree to which he then knew that his friend would want Liverpool out of this deal.

“It’s now not about his football playing ability. It’s about his application, mentality, can he rise to the challenge, does he understand there’s far more on and off the pitch with his lifestyle than there ever has been in his life?

“The £75m fee is where the market is at but now it’s about Van Dijk the person, the man.

“To me it’s a fascinating tale. He’s a good player and Liverpool need a footballer of that ilk.

“But whether he’s perfect, whether they can make them league winners, I don’t want to predict that. If I was in there situation and had that money, I’d have spent it on him.”

Van Dijk was scouted at Groningen by Celtic scout John Park, who too was in no doubt about the defender’s qualities.

Hunter said: “When Celtic were playing in the Champions League and taking apart a couple of seasons ago I phoned John Park, the guy who brought Van Dijk to Celtic.

“I said ‘this guy looks to me, even way back then in the 6-1 defeat as far back as 2013/14, an FC Barcelona defender’.

“That was evident then and his time at Southampton has proved he’s worth what Liverpool want to pay for him. I’m a little bit surprised by the outcry about the fee in England. It’s simply a pre-cursor, it will very quickly be forgotten about.

“Not in terms of Van Dijk if he fails, if that’s the case the bad odour will linger, but for a number of months we’ll be treating that kind of amount as common place.”