At this point, if you asked a hundred fans who the best centre back in football was, you’d fully expect at least 99 of them to answer back Virgil van Dijk. The Dutch Colossus hardly been alone in turning Liverpool’s defence into the best in the world, but he’s probably been the biggest part.
Van Dijk has led the Reds to back-to-back Champions League finals, winning the second while Liverpool cruelly finished runners-up in the league with 97 points. And this season, he’s led them to 21 wins out of 22 in the league and just a paltry two dropped points all season so far.
“He’s the best centre back in the world at the moment,” is how Sami Hyypia, Liverpool’s best centre back of the Premier League era—at least until Van Dijk arrived on Merseyside and staked his claim to the title—saw it on BeIN following Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Manchester United.
“Pretty much he has no weakness. The fact was that when he came Liverpool were lacking leadership, it was too much for just James Milner and Jordan Henderson. When he came there was another leader on the field. He gives confidence to everyone, he gets everyone to play better.”
Leadership in football may be a rather difficult thing to fully quantify, but Van Dijk’s leadership qualities—and the positive impact that his arrival had on all of the players around him in a side that now increasingly looks to have leaders almost everywhere on the pitch—is inarguable.
Physically, it’s hard to think of a centre half who’s bigger, stronger, or faster. Technically and tactically it’s difficult to think of any who measures up. So too as a leader. Put it together and he’s the best in the world, though Hyypia is quick to point out he’s not the only reason Liverpool are on top.
“The other thing that was very important was Alisson,” Hyypia said of Liverpool’s rise to become European Champions, World Champions, and now runaway Premier League favourites. “I think sometimes people overlook Alisson. Wwhen he came he took Liverpool to another level, too.”