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shock claim Former team-mate claims Man United opted to sign Victor Lindelof ahead of Virgil van Dijk

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Virgil Van Dijk’s defensive presence helped Liverpool to their first Premier League title last season (Paul Ellis/PA)

Virgil Van Dijk’s defensive presence helped Liverpool to their first Premier League title last season (Paul Ellis/PA)

Virgil Van Dijk’s defensive presence helped Liverpool to their first Premier League title last season (Paul Ellis/PA)

The arrival of Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool in January 2018 helped to turn Jurgen Klopp's side into serial winners and now one of his former team-mates has claimed Manchester United turned down the chance to sign the Dutch centre-back.

Van Dijk was involved in a stand-off with Southampton after he staged unsolicited transfer talks with Liverpool in the summer of 2017, with Liverpool forced to issue a public apology to the Saints after their approach to the player was revealed.

Now former Southampton striker Charlie Austin has suggested Van Dijk told him Manchester United could have stepped in to sign him before they opted to buy Swedish centre-back Victor Lindelof instead.

The Sunday World broke the story confirming Southampton would not sell Van Dijk that summer and we then became the first newspaper to confirm he would move to Anfield a few months later, after Southampton gave up on their bid to keep the Dutchman and accepted a £75million offer from Liverpool.

As we revealed at the time, Southampton may have been more open to selling the player to a club other than Liverpool in the summer of 2017 after their dispute with the Reds over their illegal approach, with Austin now claiming United decided not to sign Van Dijk and sign Lindelof instead.

"I remember at the back end of his Southampton career, we were sitting on the bench together at Chelsea away," began Austin, in an interview with talkSPORT.

"I said to him 'come on Virg, what's going on, surely Manchester United must have been in for you?'

"They're a massive club in England. He said 'do you know what Chaz, in the summer it was between me and Lindelof, and they went for Lindelof'. Nobody knows that. He told me on the bench and I couldn't believe it. I was gobsmacked."

Southampton's stance not to allow Van Dijk to leave after his unsanctioned talks with Liverpool sparked a stand-off between the player and the club, with manager Mauricio Pellegrino announcing the club's position in front of all the players, including the man at the centre of the storm.

"The manager was Pellegrino at the time and in the summer he was looking to go," he recalled. "I remember at the time he got everyone on the pitch, including Virgil, and just came out and said 'look lads Virgil wants to go, the club aren't allowing him to go, he said he's not going to play so he's not going to train with us'. In front of everybody, including Virgil.

"He was gobsmacked, there was no heads up from the manager, nothing. No heads up from the manager. He just said you are going to train over there with the fitness coach.

"Then Virg didn't move in the summer and two days after the transfer window shut, he was back in the side. You can understand it as he was being linked with Liverpool and we didn't mind him coming back in because of the quality he bought. I think he always had his heart set on a move to Liverpool."

The Premier League landscape might have looked very different over the last couple of years if then United Jose Mourinho had opted to bring Van Dijk to Old Trafford, with United's loss very much Liverpool's gain.

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