How Holland allowed the ‘tall dude’ from Breda to slip through the net

How Holland allowed the 'tall dude' from Breda to slip through the net

In the kitchen upstairs at the Oncle Jean restaurant in Breda, a Dutch city an hour’s drive south of Amsterdam, 16-year-old Abubakar Abdulle is emptying the dishwasher and listening in amusement as his manager explains why a British newspaper has come to visit.

Abubakar is being told about Oncle Jean’s most famous dishwashing alumni, and currently the country’s most successful football export: Virgil Van Dijk. The Liverpool and Holland defensive colossus and soon to be Professional Footballers’ Association player of the year.

As a 17 year-old, Van Dijk worked at Oncle Jean between school and training at the academy of Eredivise club Willem II, a 30-minute train ride east in the town of Tilburg. He would pick up his bike at Breda train station and cycle the 15 minutes for a shift at Oncle Jean in one of the city’s more expensive neighbourhoods.

There is a bar and a restaurant and various other rooms which the proprietors proudly announce can accommodate christenings, birthday celebrations, weddings and wakes. It was built in 1935, requisitioned as a mechanic’s workshop during the war and is also the place that football’s most expensive defender, the £75 million Van Dijk, washed dishes for around €4 an hour plus a cut of the tips. He was a kitchen grafter at an age when many 17-year-old prodigies are now signing contracts in the multiples of millions.

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