Words: Dan Sandison
Images: Offside Sports Photography
He's our centre half/He's our number 4/Watch him defend/And watch him score…
HE CAN PASS THE BALL, CALM AS YOU LIKE… HE’S VIRGIL VAN DIJK
It doesn’t seem much to ask, does it? Not for 75 million quid. To have a defender who can calmly pass the ball. Surely, that’s just what they do. And to sing about it? Well, why would anyone do that…
At Liverpool however, the impact of Virgil van Dijk cannot be overstated, not even in the form of a re-hashed Ewan MacColl ballad. The Dutchman’s calming influence on the back line has instilled a confidence and tranquillity that has been missing for over a decade.
Honourable mentions—Sami Hyypiä (imperious until the very sad end), Jamie Carragher (courage and guile in spades) and Dan Agger (poor sickly Daniel, he could pass it when he could stand up)—aside, you have to go back to the really, really good old days before you can pick out a Liverpool centre back who could be trusted not to have a nervous breakdown every time the ball was bouncing towards them.
For a generation of Liverpool fans, brought up on serenading a Spaniard for “getting the ball and scoring again”, a Uruguayan for sending The Kop “wild” with his headers and volleys, and an Egyptian for “running down the wing”, van Dijk provides very different shoots of hope. No more Neil Ruddock, no more Sotirios Kyrgiakos, no more hard-done-by, moping Martin Škrtel, or The World’s Best Defender™’s schizophrenic approach to the game.
For those of us who missed out on, and therefore had to endure sepia and lager-tinged tales of Phil Thompson, of Hansen and Lawrenson, of the Anfield Iron and of Big Ron Yeats, van Dijk shows us what we were missing. He’s a colossus at centre back, and Jürgen Klopp wants us to come and take a walk around him.
While Carragher was talismanic, and Hyypiä heroic, van Dijk looks the full package, and you’d struggle to find a Liverpool fan that wouldn’t pay double the £75 million asking price that finally loosened Southampton’s grip on him last January. The Kop now has a man at the heart of their defence who can do the lot: he’s not just reliable or courageous, but a footballer who can dictate the pace of a game, can lead from the back, has both speed and power, and has encouraged those around him to flourish.
There’s an exhalation when he puts his foot on the ball. A sigh of relief. A renewed confidence that hasn’t been there for a long time. An optimism worth immortalising in song. He’s calm as you like.
Also, if none of that is good enough, there is the line in it about him scoring. Which he did. On his debut. It was a winner in the derby.
This article was originally published in MUNDIAL Magazine Issue 16. Some of it is a review of 2018, most of it is about other things. You can get it sent to your door by clicking here, or subscribe so that you get four issues a year through your door here.