OK, maybe the international break and humanity as a whole aren’t as bad as they appear to be. Sure, this Nations League thing is confusing to understand and more than a tad contrived; however in arbitrarily raising the stakes in these previously (and still mostly pointless) international friendlies, UEFA has somehow managed to make a tedious two weeks actually competitive and watchable. Coincidentally, it also appears to be the perfect occasion for touching displays of kindness.
An action-packed 2-2 draw played out between a relegated Germany (whatever that means) and the Netherlands this past Monday was a case in point. Rallying from 2-0 down, the Oranje fought back through an 85th minute strike by one-time Liverpool target, Qunicy Promes, before future Reds captain, Virgil Van Dijk secured the match-saving point with an expertly-taken volley in added time.
However, despite his heroics, it was the 27-year-old’s actions following the final whistle confirming the result sending the Netherlands to June’s final at the expense of France that has caught the headlines and tugged at the heart strings.
Camera footage shows Van Dijk performing the customary round of congratulations to all parties on the pitch, when he reaches, the presiding referee of the match, Ovidiu Hategan. The Romanian official pulls Van Dijk in closer to say something, seemingly with tears in his eyes. The colossal center back reacts by embracing the man and responding with what appears to be words of encouragement and a pat on the back before the two part ways.
Questioned about the exchange after the match, the ex-Celtic man revealed that that referee had in fact sought him out for comfort:
”That man broke down, stood with tears in his eyes because he had just lost his mother,” Van Dijk said.
”I wished him strength and said he had refereed well. It’s a small thing, but I hope it helped him.”
Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp was famously unwilling to consider alternatives after failing to sign Van Dijk from Southampton in the summer of 2017, patiently waiting to break the transfer record in securing the Dutchman’s signature in the following winter window.
And while Van Dijk’s skill on the pitch and leadership in the dressing room are evident for all to see, it is also his clear quality of character that stands out.