The Reds fought off several clubs to secure the signature of 18-year-old Sepp van den Berg last summer, and the Dutchman is continuing to impress under Neil Critchley in the Under-23s.
If you had have asked any Liverpool fan last summer who their first signing ahead of the 2019-20 season would have been, it's highly unlikely they would have said a scrawny 6ft 2in teenager from PEC Zwolle. Having been sounded out by head of recruitment Dave Fallows and chief scout Barry Hunter, the red-headed Ed Sheeran look-a-like chose Anfield as the best place to continue his development, and Jürgen Klopp got his man in a cut-price £1.3million deal.
Going on to break Clarence Seedorf’s record as the youngest to play in 10 Eredivisie matches in September 2018, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, PSV Eindhoven, Ajax and Sampdoria all registered an interest in the youngster, but Liverpool moved swiftly to secure his services.
Being the youngest to appear in the Eredivisie for almost 60 years, he comes from a sporting family. His father plays tennis, his mother was previously a volleyball player for the Dutch youth teams, his sister is a keen hockey player, whilst his brother Raf remains a talented member of the Zwolle academy.
The teenager was named Zwolle’s youth player of the month for December back in 2018 before the club offered him a professional contract two months later. His debut for the Dutch side came in a defeat to FC Groningen earlier in March and he started five of the final seven games of the season.
Despite being used sparingly by manager Jaap Stam at the time, he still was able to record Zwolle’s second-highest pass completion rate of 88.4% at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.
Van den Berg, even at such a young age, is already showing signs he could fill the boots of Van Dijk in years to come. Just like the experienced Reds centre-back and his fellow countryman, the 18-year-old reads the game well, helping the defence to keep its shape when the Reds go on the attack. His calmness and composure on the ball belies his tender years and this was evident in Liverpool's 1-0 victory over Everton in the FA Cup at Anfield when he was tasked with stopping the likes of experienced forwards in Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Since arriving from Charlton in June 2015 for £3.5million, Joe Gomez has found himself alongside Van Dijk and become a key member of the Reds backline. It was not until the 2017/18 season that the England international's career took off. Should Van den Berg keep up his impressive displays, he could find himself next to Gomez in the future.
Interestingly, the centre-back combination of Van Dijk and Gomez have only conceded one goal in the past 1,246 minutes of premier league football, and that came from Wolves striker Raúl Jiménez. The record brings them close to the best defensive partnership in the Premier League ever in Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger, according to statistics.
Fans will be hoping history will repeat itself further down the line and Van den Berg can showcase his talents on the mainstage for many years to come.
Speaking to Dutch publication De Stentor, former teammate Dirk Marcellis said of Van den Berg: “What I have known is a smart player, who knows how to read situations in advance, as well as being very fast. He is an already reliable defender, with great consistency of performance.”
Juventus centre-back and Dutch wonderkid Matthijs de Ligt previously offered advice to Van den Berg, saying: “I think Sepp is a great talent and I hope he continues to grow. The advice I can give him is to keep his feet on the ground and surround himself with the right people.”
Van den Berg recently netted his first goal for Liverpool Under-23s in a 3-0 win over Huddersfield Town, whilst helping his side to go top of Group F in the Premier League Cup.
He has played four times for the Reds first eleven this campaign with each of his appearances coming in the domestic cup competitions. The future looks bright in the Reds backline for many years to come. Should Van den Berg continue to impress and have the fans calling his name, he could well be fast-tracked to first-team duties soon, and who knows, with Dejan Lovren looking likely to depart the Reds in the summer, step up Sepp!