Virgil van Dijk has been one of Liverpool’s best signings in several years, and arguably one of the best signings in the Premier League in the last decade or so, but the former Southampton defender could have actually ended up playing for rival club, Manchester United.
According to The Independent’s Miguel Delaney, former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho did not want to pursue a deal to sign Virgil van Dijk before the 28-year-old’s move to Liverpool in January 2018. Mourinho reportedly did not want to sign the Dutch man-mountain in January citing his lack of need for a defender, only to make a U-turn months later and demanding a big-money signing in the summer.
van Dijk moved to Liverpool for a then world-record transfer fee (£75m) for a defender, which was recently broken by Harry Maguire’s move to Manchester United. In his second season with the club, the Dutchman helped Liverpool win the Champions League and took them close to winning the Premier League. His exploits with Liverpool in the 2018-19 season were rewarded with several personal awards as well, including the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year Award and PFA Players’ Player of the Year, to name a few.
Costly slip-up by Jose?
Virgil van Dijk’s transformation of the Liverpool backline has been somewhat miraculous with not many expecting such a profound and impactful change upon one player’s arrival.
van Dijk could have certainly transformed this United squad into a team capable of winning the Premier League, although Mourinho’s decision to not sign him, especially in the January transfer window, seems a reasonable one. United had five first-team centre-backs in January 2018, of which one – Victor Lindelof – had been signed six months earlier in the 2017 summer transfer window, while Eric Bailly was signed a year prior to that.
To sign another centre-back without giving a chance to two of his young acquisitions in that area would have been cruel. In hindsight, it might seem as if taking the leap might have turned around the fortunes of United but the decision would not have been deemed viable in the then-existing circumstances.
Mourinho would have also known that there are other areas of the pitch that needed new players and spending £75 million for just one player could have reduced his transfer budget significantly.