NEW Liverpool sensation Virgil van Dijk dropped his dad’s name from his shirt over a family feud that has raged since he was 12, The Sun on Sunday can reveal.
Close relatives of the £75million Dutch defender say he has never forgiven his dad Ron for walking out on his mum Hellen.
That is why the 26-year-old uses his first name, rather than his surname, on his shirt.
His mother’s brother Steven Fo Sieeuw has opened up about the bitter rift — as we plot the remarkable rise of the world’s most expensive defender.
Dad-of-two Steven, 40, says: “Virgil has done amazingly well to be such a success given the ups and downs there have been in his family.
“His dad split with his mother and his three children, including Virgil, found it hard to forgive him for that.
“The truth is his dad was not around for so many important years and it is his mother who is the real hero of this story.
“You don’t take your dad’s name off your shirt without a reason and Virgil has made it very clear how he feels.”
Although Ron would take Virgil to matches and to training with youth football team WDS’19, Steven, a trader, insists Hellen played the biggest part in their son’s development.
He says: “She had a full-time job and three kids to look after, so she never had a minute for herself.
“She spent every day going to work then coming home and looking after the kids and doing all the cooking.
“Ron is a nice guy but you need to be more than that to be a good father. You have to be there for your children. Ron married again and his new wife was very domineering so he didn’t see his kids much.
“I feel for Virgil, it’s like he’s been caught in the middle.”
The family feud has continued since Virgil’s big-money transfer to Liverpool earlier this month.
Steven says: “His dad posted something on the internet saying how proud he was of his son. But Virgil’s brother Jordan told him he had no right to be saying these things.”
In response, dad Ron, 52, a TV installer, has accused his ex-wife’s family of only taking an interest in Virgil’s football once he started earning big money.
Dutchman Ron, who says he still has occasional contact with his famous son, told the Sun on Sunday: “I am the only person who knows what has made Virgil the man he is today.
“No one on his mother’s side ever bothered with Virgil and his football until he became a professional.
“I have one word for you on that matter — money.”
His good friend Ico Staneke, 65, adds: “What has happened is heartbreaking for Ron.
“I know he wants to be involved in all of his children’s lives. Virgil is closer to his mother now. Ron hardly speaks to him any more. When he was at Southampton, Virgil invited him down for a game but he said no, he felt it was a token gesture.”
Today those closest to Virgil also reveal how the Kop star, who scored on his debut to beat Everton in the FA Cup last weekend, has been a heart-throb from his school days.
We tell how the £180,000-a-week player once washed dishes for £2.50 an hour and almost died aged 19 after his appendix burst.
Virgil, who married his childhood sweetheart Rike Nooitgedagt last summer — they have a three-year-old daughter — may have hit the high life, but he has not forgotten his roots.
He has used some of his riches to buy his 50-year-old mum, a former military police officer, a new house. Virgil, who grew up in Breda, in the south of Holland, gets his striking good looks from his mum, who is from Suriname, South America.
Former classmate Mitchell de Waard, 26, who went to Driezwing junior school with him, recalls: “Virgil was a nice guy and very funny.
“It was when he was around nine that girls started noticing him. They would be chasing him all the time.
“He stood out because he was one of the only boys with dark skin and they loved his haircut.”
But Virgil was far too busy having kickabouts with his friends to notice.
Rik Kleyn, 56, his trainer at youth football team WDS’19, says: “I could see that already his whole life was about football.
“He was not a leader and not the biggest kid, he was actually quite slow, but he was 100 per cent committed.
“His father would take him to the games all the time and to me they seemed close back then, so I am surprised he no longer has his name on his shirt.”
Things at home were thrown into turmoil when Virgil’s parents split up when he was just 12.
Talking about that difficult time, he told Dutch journalist Jan Mennega in 2011: “I first lived with him for a while and after that I chose to go back with my mother.
“At that time my brother and sister already lived with her. Then I broke all contact with my dad.
“At the beginning it wasn’t nice but I don’t need him any more. My father tried to re-establish contact but I don’t want to see him.
“When I get older maybe I will talk to him again, but at this moment I don’t have any feeling for him.”
He added that his businessman brother Jordan, 24, and sister Jennifer, 16, both ditched the van Dijk surname and started using their mother’s maiden name, Fo Sieeuw.
When Virgil was 15 and playing for the Willem II club, a growth spurt saw him shoot up seven inches, putting pressure on his knees and making him slow to a point where the club almost let him go.
He made ends meet washing dishes at the Oncle Jean restaurant in Breda.
Chef Jacques Lips, 56, recalls: “He only earned about three euros an hour but he said he had to take the job as he could not make any money playing football. I’d see him washing the dishes and I would try to make conversation but he rarely talked.”
Three years later Virgil had signed his first professional contract, with Dutch side FC Groningen. He scored twice on his debut. But a year later his career was almost torpedoed a second time when his appendix burst — a freak health scare that could have killed him. He spent 12 days in hospital, lost more than two stone and took four months to recover.
Virgil has previously opened up about how his faith helped him through this dark period. He said: “When I was younger I went to church every Sunday and then when I got older I stopped. But sometimes I pray and I feel it has helped me through some tough times.”
Virgil was scouted by Ajax but the Dutch giants decided not to sign him. He was snapped up by Celtic in 2013.
He moved to Southampton two years later, where his commanding performances brought him to the attention of Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.
Despite the family problems, Steven is convinced his nephew will rise above it all and become a Premier League legend — but one who will always have his feet firmly on the ground.
He says: “Virgil is not stupid and he is not Santa Claus either. He has bought his mother a new house in Breda but he is not going to start buying cars for so-called relatives he barely knows. But he cares about his family. He is a nice, humble guy and I am very proud to call him my nephew.”
Additional reporting: Michel Spekkers
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