By Lewis Rooke – @LV_Rooke
It’s a poisoned chalice, the position of centre back on a football field.
A striker can bag one goal in ten attempts and be anointed a hero, yet one small blip as the last line of defence out of ten perfectly nullified attacks will have you well and truly thrown to the wolves – you seldom see a defender truly appreciated for their efforts, yet the unflappable Virgil van Dijk is an exception to this rule.
Our most revered defenders down the years have all had their flaws. Jamie Carragher’s technical ability could be found wanting at times, and as good as he was Sami Hyypia also had his imperfections. Yet you will find no such flaw should you study the game of the Dutchman. It’s almost too cliché to say, but he has it all.
Equally as cliché as it is true – van Dijk has a unique blend unrivalled strength and classiness and his ability to read play before it develops is second-to-none. Coupled with the fact he simply does not have a mistake in him as well as his aerial threat in the opposition area, we can say with some certainty he really has everything.
And oh, how the fans know it…
The £75m man exudes an unparalleled aura of invincibility that has brought stability to a defence often mocked and made a meme of in recent times. An improvement to such an extent the majestic Dutchman has his own song which has become a favourite in the stands.
To the tune of The Pogues song ‘Dirty Old Town’ and popularised by the brilliant Jamie Webster, the lyrics of “he’s Virgil van Dijk, he’s Virgil van Dijk” ring around the Kop more than most. The volume level considerably rises as the opening “he’s our centre half, he’s our number four” line is sung and the following “watch him defend, and we watch him score” has spine-tingling reverberations around the stadium – whether home or away.
Personally, I have never encountered a defender in world football or in Liverpool’s recent history so enthusiastically celebrated. Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher had their own beloved songs but Virgil van Dijk’s feels different – he has Anfield simply eating out the palm of his hand.
At this point in time, most of this excellent Liverpool side have their own individual songs. The much celebrated mercurial attack of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino each have songs of their own. You’ll also hear chants for Gini Wijnaldum and Andy Robertson ring around from time to time, as well as the customary “Allez Allez Allez” among many, many others – yet it is Virgil van Dijk’s song that is sung with an unrivalled gusto and passion.
Therefore it’s an enormous credit to the Netherlands captain that he is probably more cherished than any other at the club. For all the undoubted talent of the famed ‘front three’, the fans have full appreciation of the value of van Dijk and thankfully so.
And it makes me think, is the Dutchman the most loved Liverpool player ever? Obviously, that’s a very bold statement, with many deserving players over the years who could take that mantle such as Steven Gerrard and Luis Suárez as well as a long list of others in seasons gone by, I would argue Virgil van Dijk tops all of these stellar names.
The adoration fans have for van Dijk stems not only from sheer ability, but from circumstance. For the best part of a decade, Liverpool were starved of a centre half who could legitimately be relied upon. The closest Liverpool have come to a top defender since the prime years of Jamie Carragher has been Daniel Agger – a good centre half plagued by injuries who underachieved in a Liverpool shirt mainly due to the calibre of backline beside him.
The likes of Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren were all prophesied as the saviour of the Liverpool defence over the past ten years and each of whom have failed to fix any problems by their own accord. Liverpool’s decade-long appetite for a truly competent centre half was only whetted once Virgil van Dijk walked through the doors of Melwood – and how we haven’t looked back since.
In the equal time period, Liverpool have seen heroes Fernando Torres replaced by Luis Suárez, and Luis Suárez since replaced by Mohamed Salah. All of whom were deemed irreplaceable, yet Liverpool have found no issue in doing so. But the issue of centre back has indeed been a lengthy and problematic one, and one thing became abundantly clear – it is much more difficult to replace a defender than it is an attacker.
It is these circumstances, coupled with van Dijk’s enormous ability, that he has been taken deep into the hearts of the fans. While he has only been on Merseyside for just over a year, he already has a legitimate claim to being our most loved player.
Let us know what you think, could Virgil van Dijk be Liverpool’s most coveted player of all time?