Jurgen Klopp gave Virgil van Dijk the ultimate seal of approval by saying he has regained the form that has made him the best defender in the world.
It was on this day four years ago that the Liverpool manager shone after his club announced they had reached a £ 75million deal with Southampton for the transfer of Van Dijk. This ended a six-month lawsuit for the Dutch captain and the transfer turned out to be transformative.
Van Dijk helped Liverpool win the Champions League and Premier League in 2019 and 2020, but a measure of his influence on the squad was correctly assessed last season, when he was sent off from October with damage to the anterior cruciate ligament.
Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp (left) congratulated Virgil van Dijk (right) on his return to form
Van Dijk faced a difficult path after a horrific knee injury in October 2020 following a challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in a fiery Merseyside derby
The road back has been difficult but Van Dijk – especially in recent weeks – has once again exerted a huge influence on Liverpool’s performances, demonstrating the success of their rehab program and their own commitment to improve.
Many in the Liverpool camp believe Van Dijk is performing at the same level as when he won the PFA Player of the Year award in 2019 and was nominated for the Ballon d’Or. Other players have made headlines this season, but the 30-year-old’s influence has not gone unnoticed.
“Virg was really good, really good… keep this going for a long time! Klopp said, knocking on the table, to theatrically demand that progress continue. ‘It’s like that. The rehabilitation worked very well, so he came back in very good shape. He needed rhythm and it was important that he had that rhythm.
“He’s back at his best now, that’s for sure. What helps us a lot – and helps us a lot – is that we have options so that we don’t have to push him through the times when his body is giving a sign that it needs to step aside for a moment. It’s very useful. This is why the situation is very good.
Van Dijk has been as compelling this tenure as when he was nominated for the Ballon d’Or in 2019
Ibrahima Konate, who Liverpool signed from RB Leipzig in May for £ 36million, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip – plus Nat Phillips – have given Klopp the luxury this season of pulling Van Dijk out of odd games when the schedule has been punitive , to avoid pushing him too far.
Initially there were understandable concerns, given the severity of the injury he suffered, how long it would take Van Dijk to reach full speed, but the fact that Klopp was willing to do such a commentary on his form illustrates his importance to what Liverpool are. try to achieve.
Such has been his remarkable consistency, Van Dijk made the £ 75million Liverpool paid for him one of the best deals they had in the Fenway Sport Group era. Quite simply, it allowed them to compete with confidence for the biggest prizes.
Manchester City were in the market for Van Dijk, as were Manchester United – although their interest did not emerge until the former Celtic star signed his contract at Anfield – but the attraction of playing for Klopp was the factor that turned out to be decisive.
Van Dijk proved to be a transformative signing for Liverpool, helping them win the 2020 title
Liverpool signed the Dutchman for £ 75million from Southampton and the deal turned out to be a bargain
“The arrival of Virgil was obviously a great day in our shared history,” said Klopp. “It’s a good example of a winter transfer and how it works. A winter transfer works when you wanted to recruit a player the previous summer or the following summer. This is the situation.
“We wanted Virgil in the summer (of 2017); for some reason we couldn’t do the transfer at that time but in the winter we tried again and were able to do it. It was a very important day, it changed a lot for us.
“In combination with Joel, with Dejan (Lovren), with Joey, we could all of a sudden defend in a different way. We could reduce the terrain for the opponent, which was very useful. This is why we are really happy.