Here are some stats and facts about Liverpool’s defensive colossus Virgil van Dijk.
Last month Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe became the first player in 50 Premier League games to successfully dribble past the Dutchman.
In April he became the first defender since John Terry to be awarded the PFA Player of the Year and he subsequently followed that up by beating Messi and Ronaldo to the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year award.
In the league last season he won a remarkable number of individual duels, 244 all told. The player has been credited with single-handedly transforming Liverpool’s back-line from one too often susceptible to individual errors to the most miserly unit in England.
On his departure from Manchester City this summer Vincent Kompany – himself a stopper of fine repute – insisted van Dijk was the Premier League’s ‘best ever’ centre-back.
In his down-time the 6ft 4 giant likes to invent medical equipment that helps save the lives of millions, while recently he stared at Mount Everest and its peak crumbled off in pure intimidation.
Obviously, a couple of the above aren’t true, and were we living in normal, rational times they would be very easy to pick out.
But we’re not living in rational times. We’re living in an era where Liverpool FC are flying high, missing out on a title by a singular point last year and then securing the Champions League. What’s more, a player has come to the fore; a leader who encapsulates all that is formidably impressive about this Jurgen Klopp creation. Put these two things together and it is fair to say that the public and media alike has gotten a little excitable of late.
The exaggerated acclaim of Liverpool football club and celebration of every detail therein by its fans and the press has long been a source of irritation for many of us even though it is admittedly harmless in the first regard and understandable – to an extent – in the second.
So Reds like to shout their club’s merits loudly from the rooftops? Frankly, if only more of us did likewise instead of putting down our own. As for the media, they have traditionally been acutely aware that in their coverage of Liverpool they have a huge fan-base only too happy to lap up – and crucially click and share – any and all positive content concerning their club.
Again, being generous we could say that the first instance is passion, the second good business sense.
Yet even by these well-established tropes that have previously brought to mind Pravda at its most trenchant – from the lionising of ‘Stevie G’ over Frank Lampard to television networks falling silent during You’ll Never Walk Alone as if it’s a reverential hymn. But even by Liverpool’s standards the veneration of Virgil van Dijk is a bit much.
A recent clip of the 28-year-old jumping for a ball that hung from a corridor ceiling had one tabloid compare him to Michael Jordan. Late last year Jamie Redknapp insisted the player was Nemanja Vidic, John Terry, and Rio Ferdinand rolled into one.
In April with Spurs’ Moussa Sissoko breaking through on goal van Dijk showed him onto his weaker foot, a tactic coached into defenders from the get-go. The Liverpool Echo’s match report had this for its opening line: ‘In a phenomenal six second sequence, Virgil van Dijk once again proved why he is considered the Premier League’s number one centre back’. The last minute goal that decided the contest was demoted to the third paragraph.
On social media, meanwhile, people have virtually lost their minds.
— Chekwube (@Chekwube_) September 23, 2019
Van Dijk is the best defender I've ever seen play football. Others have won more, but nobody has been as good as him.
— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) June 2, 2019
— Liverpool FC News (@LivEchoLFC) June 2, 2019
Granted, the former Southampton defender is presently in the running for this year’s Ballon d’Or while last week he narrowly lost out to Lionel Messi for the FIFA Player of the Year award. These things do not happen unless you are unquestionably a special player. On that note it should be granted too that van Dijk is a very, very good defender who has enjoyed an exceptional 20 months since signing from the Saints for £75m.
Some perspective is needed though surely because if it’s incongruous to claim that the Liverpool star is over-rated it is absolutely on the money to state that he is over-celebrated.
Last season he was not alone in guiding his team to the top of the league via a series of immaculate defensive displays. Up the M62 Aymeric Laporte was equally a proverbial Rolls Royce at the back for Manchester City and similarly too he is a player who arrived during a January transfer window to elevate a defence not previously averse to calamity.
Leaving club bias aside to compare van Dijk and Laporte and their performances to date puts the former ahead. To compare their reputations via the coverage they receive, however, places one mortal and on the ground – despite helping his side to a clean sweep of domestic trophies – while the other is praised and elevated into to the stratosphere.
Why is this? It is because of the clubs they play for.