Manchester United legend Jaap Stam admits that fellow Dutchman Virgil van Dijk is possibly “even better” than he was, with the Liverpool defender having enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence.
A man who finished as runner-up to Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi in the 2019 Ballon d’Or vote has come a long way in a short space of time.
He started out in humble beginnings at Groningen, before making a move to Celtic in 2013.
Two years in Scotland earned him a Premier League switch to Southampton, before a record-breaking £75 million ($99m) transfer took him to Anfield in January 2018.
Van Dijk has continued to be showered with praise during his time at Liverpool, becoming a Champions League winner and UEFA Player of the Year in the process .
Stam admits to being impressed by the path taken by a talented 28-year-old, telling Stadium Astro : “It's always been discussed in Holland and everybody was saying: 'we need another defender like Jaap', and eventually, Virgil came out and he started late.
“He didn't grow up in the academy of a PSV or Ajax. He built his own career by starting at smaller teams and eventually going to Scotland as well and then coming into the UK. You need to work for yourself and he did it.”
Van Dijk is now hoping to follow in Stam’s footsteps by adding a Premier League title to his roll of honour.
A no-nonsense centre-half who spent three years at Old Trafford between 1998 and 2001 helped the Red Devils to three top-flight crowns and an historic treble during his time in England.
Stam’s efforts, before being surprisingly offloaded to Lazio by Sir Alex Ferguson, earned him a standing as one of the finest defenders on the planet.
Van Dijk now occupies that bracket, with a talismanic presence at Liverpool considered to be one of the most complete centre-halves to have graced this or any other generation.
Stam concedes that a fellow countryman has probably topped him, saying: "Yeah, maybe [he's] even better, I don't know.
"But Virgil is a presence. That's very important as a football player if you want to play in the highest leagues and the biggest clubs.
"Positioning yourself is very important. In possession but also out of possession because it helps you a lot. You get more time to do things as well and he's doing a fantastic job."