• Charles E.Cheadle

Virgil Van Dijk is Liverpool's Greatest Centre Back of the Premier League Era - LFC Fan View

Many will recall the cynicism surrounding his record signing, the most expensive centre back in the world at the time, and the immense pressure this placed on Van Dijk to perform. However, most will agree, Virgil has lived up to high expectations and more, progressing not only into Liverpool’s FCs Best Centre Back of the Premier League era, but becoming the Best Centre Back in World Football.

Since his arrival, his impact at the club has been profound, becoming integral to our fantastic European and domestic success, which has been commensurate to his statistics; he can only be described as simply sensational. Virgil has not only set the bar extremely high by stamping his name into Liverpool FCs history books, it also comes as no shock that our no.4 is even being considered as the Greatest Premier League Defender of all time. From his no nonsense defending to his midfielder like playmaking, Virgil exhibits attributes associated with both classical and modern defenders.

As Virgil had yet to prove himself to be amongst the best defenders in the world, such as Sergio Ramos or Thiago Silva, this initial skepticism to his signing was not unreasonable, particularly as he needed to justify his whopping £75 million pounds price tag. However, Jurgen Klopp recognised the quality of Van Dijk from the start, in a Sky Sports interview commenting: “if you pay the amount of money for a player that we paid, you have to be convinced, you need to be 100 per cent sure and we were sure”. Of course, he was right.

Klopp’s faith in his decision paid off, despite a hefty price tag, he utilised Virgil’s talent to heavily influence Liverpool FCs success.

Van Dijk has been key, if not essential, in transforming Liverpool into one of, if not, the best football team in the world. Since 2009/10, Liverpool had not finished a season conceding less than 40 Premier League goals.[1] And the 2017/18 season epitomised the Reds serious defensive problems. Matches were like games of basketball; we had to simply rely on our ruthless front three to score more goals than we conceded. Enter Virgil Van Dijk, and this ‘ping-pong’ style of football concludes. Virgil solidified our defence, ensuring we could play our high-line and press with the confidence that nothing would get past our no.4. As a result, our defence went from shoddy to sublime in his first full season at the club, having the best defensive record in the League by conceding just 22 goals. Van Dijk almost halved the number of goals Liverpool conceded. Whilst we must not forget the role Fabinho and Allison had in shoring up our defence, much of the credit for Liverpool’s first ever Premier League Title must surely go to Van Dijk who, along with his defensive counterparts, boasted the best defensive record in the league. Virgil has proved both pivotal and instrumental to our title success; hence he quite rightly receives the award for being Liverpool’s Best Premier League Centre Back.

It is perhaps the 2020/21 season which most clearly highlights Van Dijk’s importance to the team. As a result of Everton’s goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford’s horror challenge ending his season early, Liverpool went back to old ways, conceding 42 goals and scraping 3rd in the Premier League. Whilst the situation was made worse by further injuries to first team Centre Backs Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, ensuing a Centre-Back crisis, it is undeniable the situation would have been less severe if Virgil was fit. In the absence of Virgil Van Dijk Liverpool’s chances of success become slimmer, as with any world class team missing a world class player.

The addition of Van Dijk has turned Liverpool back into a winning team and consequently made Virgil into one of the most decorated Liverpool defenders of the Premier League era. He is of one of few Liverpool defenders to boast a Premier League medal, and in tandem with his Champions league, Club World Cup and Super Cup medals makes him an all-time Liverpool legend. Virgil’s impressive achievements do not end there. Individually, Van Dijk has merited the 2019 PFA Player of the Year, 2018/19 Premier League Player of the Year, UEFA Player of the year 2019 and UEFA Defender of the year 2019 – all of which he gained in his first season at the club, further validating his immediate impact. Van Dijk is also one of the few defenders to be named in the top three of the Ballon d’Or ever, a monumental achievement in itself.

Virgil Van Dijk has turned his doubters into believers, fulfilling Klopp’s aim when arriving at the club, and certainly lived up to his £75 million price tag. No other Liverpool defender has had as great an impact as Virgil Van Dijk in terms of changing Liverpool from a mediocre team, chasing the top 4, to title contenders.

Arguably, no other Liverpool Centre Back can quite compare to Van Dijk in terms of his all-round ability. Van Dijk’s passing range and ability to carve open a team is simply outstanding, and has helped Liverpool immensely to win games when there has been a lack of creativity in the midfield. The Dutch colossus rarely gets dribbled passed; in the 2018/19 Premier League season Van Dijk was not once dribbled passed. He is calm on the ball in tricky situations and you never feel nervous when he has it. He leads from the back. He is strong. He has every attribute a defender of the modern game requires – he even smells nice according to Troy Deeney, which further infuriates strikers. He is simply brilliant.

When reviewing Van Dijk’s impact at Liverpool, his individual success and his attributes, it is no surprise he won the vote for Liverpool’s Greatest Premier League Centre Back. Virgil Van Dijk is a Liverpool legend of the highest order, and he will forever be “our centre half, our number 4”.

[1] https://anfieldindex.com/49022/virgil-van-dijks-impact-on-liverpool.html