After becoming the first defender to win the UEFA Men’s Best Player award, Virgil van Dijk stressed that his success did not come overnight.
I wasn’t 18 and went straight to the top, the Dutch defender said
I had to work every step of the way. It’s been a long road and it’s part of my journey. I’m very proud to get this trophy. It’s credit to everyone who has helped me.
Aged just 20 at the time and playing for FC Groningen Van Dijk’s career, and more worryingly, life, was nearly over after a minor illness turned very serious.
He took ill after an Eredivisie game against Excelsior but officials thought it was just common sickness until later it emerged he had appendicitis, peritonitis and a kidney infection.
Virgil was ill, but we didn’t know the extent, Groningen reserve coach Dick Lukkien told FourFourTwo In an interview.
At first we thought he had the flu. He was at home for a few days and in lots of pain. He went to the local hospital but they couldn’t find anything, so sent him back home again.
The pain got worse and when his mum travelled to see him, she realised how bad the situation Was. She took him to another hospital, which turned out to be crucial.
I was shocked. When he returned to the club, he had changed from a big man into a shrivelled person. Luckily he managed to recover quite quickly.
Van Dijk was forced to have life-saving surgery and sidelined for the final two months of the season so he could make a recovery. However, the Dutchman’s situation was so severe that he got as far as writing a will so that his mother would be taken care off financially if the worst did happen.
I still remember lying in that bed,” the centre-back was quoted as saying in 2012. The only thing I could see were tubes dangling out of me. My body was broken and I couldn’t do anything.
At such a moment, the worst scenarios were whizzing around your head. My life was at risk. My mum and I prayed to God and discussed possible scenarios. At some point I had to sign some papers. It was a kind of testament.
If I died, a part of my money would go to my mum. Of course, nobody wanted to talk about it, but we had to do that. It could have been over.
Fortunately the 28-year old has come through it all and fast forward to the present day, he is the captain of the Netherlands national team, a Champions League winner, and now, the worthy recipient of the UEFA Men’s Best player award.