Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk has cemented his place among the best defenders in world football since his move to Anfield in January this year, but the Reds must keep hold of him for the foreseeable future if they want to return to their rightful position as an elite European club.
Jurgen Klopp’s side paid Southampton £75m for Van Dijk at the start of 2018 – a world record fee for a defender. The German boss had courted the Dutchman since the previous summer though and it’s easy to see why.
Van Dijk came in and instantly made a difference to Liverpool’s leaky defence with his strength, pace and leadership at the back. On his debut for the club, the former Celtic man netted the winner in a Merseyside derby with a late header, and his Anfield career has continued on an upward trajectory since then.
After helping the Reds to a Champions League final at the end of last season, Van Dijk has now formed a strong partnership with youngster Joe Gomez at the heart of the Liverpool defence. This has helped the club to their best ever Premier League start and, after 12 games of this campaign, Klopp’s side remain unbeaten having conceded just five goals.
It’s certainly no stretch to claim that Van Dijk has been crucial to this turnaround, and the now 27-year-old is also leading the rejuvenation of the Dutch national team as captain under Ronald Koeman after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
However, this hugely impressive form and Van Dijk’s immense ability mean that it will not be long before interest comes from the current giants of European football – Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The two Spanish teams are still where all the top players want to end up, but Liverpool must keep Van Dijk on Merseyside if they are to ever get close to their glory days once again.
It is almost inevitable that one of the two will express an interest in Liverpool’s 6ft 4in ball-playing centre-back at some point if he continues on his current path. In the next few years, Madrid will be on the lookout for a long-term partner for Raphael Varane as 32-year-old Sergio Ramos takes more of a back seat, and Van Dijk will surely be on their shortlist.
For Barcelona, things are more complicated after it was revealed recently by The Times that the Catalan giants would have to pay a €100m (£89m) premium in addition to any transfer fee if they are to target any Liverpool player before 2020 – a fantastic piece of negotiating by sporting director Michael Edwards.
At this point in two years time though Van Dijk will only be 29-years-old and will still be an incredibly attractive option for any club.
Of course, winning trophies is the only way to really become a top club again and Liverpool haven’t done that since their League Cup triumph in 2012. First though they must keep hold of their top talents like Van Dijk and not be seen as a stepping-stone to these European giants, as was the case in the end with Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez.
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