Virgil van Dijk during his time at FC Groningen. The Dutch side have been relegated from the Eredivisie for the first time this century.

Van Dijk, Suarez, Robben: 8 world-class players sold by FC Groningen

They may not be the biggest name in Dutch football, but FC Groningen have been relegated after 23 years in the Eredivisie – and playing a crucial role in the development of some of the finest footballers of their generation.

Based in the far north of the Netherlands, Groningen have rarely threatened to become an Eredivisie force but have produced a large number of future world-class players and Ballon d’Or winners down the years – almost like a Dutch Southampton.

And as the club’s supporters mourn relegation, we’ve identified eight world-class reasons why the demise of FC Groningen should sadden your soul.

Virgil van Dijk

Van Dijk started on the road to becoming the world’s finest centre-back at Groningen back in 2010-11, having joined them from Willem II as a youngster that summer.

In an interview with Sky Sports in 2016, reserve team coach Dick Lukkien recalled how Van Dijk needed pushing to fulfil his immense potential.

This preference for the stick over the carrot took some time for the player to appreciate. “He was very anxious,” Lukkien said.

“He had to get used to me. I obviously recognised his talent but I thought he was much too easy, much too laidback.

“It was a challenge to change his mentality because he didn’t trust me at first and he’s someone who needs to have a bond with his trainer. He thought I was too direct. I think he thought I didn’t like him. But I saw his talent and when I see talent I want to get it out.”

The rest is history…

Luis Suarez

Fifteen goals in 37 matches were enough to earn Suarez a move to Ajax in 2007, as he morphed from Eredivisie nuisance to one of the best strikers of his generation.

Liverpool's Luis Suarez during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion at England in Liverpool, England, United Kingdom on Oct. 26, 2013.

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Arjen Robben

Fresh from their youth academy, Robben debuted for Groningen as a 16-year-old and quickly became an established member of the starting XI.

Word spread that Groningen had reared one of the world’s finest young footballers and PSV moved quickly to secure his signature in 2002.

Spells at Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich established his status as a generational talent and Robben sensationally came out of retirement to rejoin Groningen in 2020. The bond was strong…

Ronald Koeman

Koeman debuted for the club in 1980 and was an immediate success, scoring 30 goals while still a teenager.

During his final season at Oosterpark, Ronald got to play alongside his elder brother Erwin, who had returned for his second spell at the club.

But, while Erwin remained in Dutch football for the rest of his career, Ronald would become one of the world’s finest players at Barcelona and starred in the national side’s triumph at Euro ’88.

Now the manager of the Dutch side, Koeman recruited his brother to become an assistant coach. Lovely stuff.

Dusan Tadic

Tadic is an Ajax legend, particularly for his role in their fairytale Champions League run in 2019, but the Serbia international also shone for Groningen at the start of the decade.

After signing from FK Vojvodina, Tadic recorded 22 assists in his debut season, the third-most among all major European leagues behind Lionel Messi and Mesut Ozil.

He left for Twente in 2012, scoring twice against Groningen on his debut, before going on to star for both Southampton and Ajax.

Filip Kostic

Another Serbia international to thrive at Groningen, Kostic’s 12 goals in 2013-14 were enough to earn him a move to Stuttgart.

He later impressed at Hamburg, before moving to Eintracht Frankfurt and helping them win the Europa League in 2022.

Faced with a choice between West Ham and Juventus last summer, the winger unsurprisingly plumped for the Italian giants and scored the only goal in their Derby d’Italia win over Internazionale in March 2023.

Ritsu Doan

Japan are starting to produce some magnificently technical footballers and, after being plucked from Gamba Osaka, Doan was impressive that he was named the 2016 Young Asian Footballer of the Year after his first season in the Netherlands.

After rebuffing an offer of co-ownership from Manchester City, Doan was eventually sold to PSV in 2019 and now turns out Bundesliga over-achievers Freiburg.

He also scored in Japan’s victories over Germany and Spain at the 2022 World Cup, establishing himself as another Groningen prodigy.

Daley Blind

Okay, Blind was never technically sold by Groningen as he only joined on a season-long loan in 2009. Shoot us.

But his difficult spell in the northern part of the Netherlands taught Blind the value of resilience in the face of difficulty and playing at right-back gave him the versatility that would see him shine at Ajax.

The Netherlands international would also go on to represent Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Not bad.

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