Man United were heavily linked with Virgil van Dijk the summer before he joined Liverpool FC but few knew just how close they were to signing the Dutchman.
Manchester United’s transfer decisions in recent years have been questionable to say the least. But for all the poor signings they’ve made, a signing they missed out on could be their biggest transfer error of the lot.
United were in the market for defensive reinforcements back in the summer of 2017, with Jose Mourinho looking to stabilise his backline in a bid to improve on the season prior where United finished sixth.
Among a number of linked defenders was Virgil van Dijk, who had been excellent for two seasons with Southampton as they enjoyed a consistent period in the Premier League’s top half. Things never developed from what seemed to be rumour, however, and Mourinho looked closer to his homeland, signing Benfica’s Victor Lindelof.
It was presumed that links with Van Dijk were wide of the mark. But Charlie Austin, who was Van Dijk’s teammate at Southampton, revealed just how close the move was to happening.
“I remember the back end of his Southampton career we were on the bench together at Chelsea away,” Austin told talkSPORT in 2021. “I sat there and I said, ‘Come on Virgil, what’s going on, surely Man United must’ve been in for you? Massive club in England, etc’. He said, ‘You know what Chaz, in the summer it was like between me or Lindelof and they signed Lindelof’.
“I was like, ‘You are joking!’ Nobody knows that, he told me that on the bench. I couldn’t believe it, I was just as gobsmacked as you. Obviously there was talk in the summer he was going to go there then they’ve gone and taken Lindelof instead.”
Van Dijk would remain a Southampton player come deadline day over the summer, but the Dutchman’s consistent performances on the south coast caught Liverpool’s eye and they could no longer wait. Jurgen Klopp’s side forked out £85m the following January – a world record at the time for a defender – and have not looked back since.
To his credit, Lindelof has been a good servant to United over the last eight seasons, playing 246 times across all competitions. But supporters would be forgiven for thinking what could have been.