Six months after Liverpool first hoped to complete Virgil van Dijk’s transfer from Southampton, it was finally able to announce the signing of the Dutch defender on Wednesday. All it had taken to push the deal over the line was a formal apology to his former club, a little patience and $100 million.
The move — which will be finalized on Monday, when Europe’s winter transfer window opens — will make van Dijk the most expensive defender in soccer history by some distance. The previous record, set by Benjamin Mendy’s move from Monaco to Manchester City over the summer, stood at $72.3 million.
That Liverpool has agreed to pay $20 million more than that immediately — with a further $8 million dependent on various performance-related bonuses — is testament to how much Jurgen Klopp, the Reds’ manager, values the 26-year-old van Dijk, but also to the acrimonious circumstances in which the deal was completed.
Klopp identified van Dijk last season as his top defensive reinforcement. Convinced that Liverpool had too often settled for second- or third-choice signings in the past, Klopp decided not to draw up a list of alternatives. Despite doubts over the reliability of his current defensive roster — Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan — and interest in van Dijk from both Manchester City and Chelsea, Klopp persuaded Liverpool’s owner, the Fenway Sports Group, that he wanted van Dijk and nobody else.
In June, it emerged that Klopp’s pitch had worked: news media reports indicated that van Dijk had made clear that he would only agree to a move to Liverpool.
Southampton, however, was not prepared to part with him. Liverpool has signed almost $250 million of players from Southampton in recent seasons — including Adam Lallana, Lovren and Sadio Mané — and relations between the clubs were tense.