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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Virgil van Dijk 'pretty calm' under scrutiny of being the world's most expensive defender

The £75 million Liverpool defender says: 'Everybody is going to watch the bad things and that is how it is.

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk in action with Tottenham's Son Heung-min during the 2-2 Premier League draw at Anfield on Sunday. Carl Recine / Reuters
Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk in action with Tottenham's Son Heung-min during the 2-2 Premier League draw at Anfield on Sunday. Carl Recine / Reuters

Virgil van Dijk is aware the spotlight shines on him. He knows mistakes will be magnified, excellence either ignored or explained as something that should be expected because of his cost. It is as though his name has acquired a new prefix which colours views. He is "the £75 million defender Virgil van Dijk".

The pressure of being the most expensive centre-back (roughly Dh366 million) in footballing history could be overwhelming. It is not, Liverpool’s record buy insists. “It is pretty easy for me,” Van Dijk said. “I am pretty calm on that.” A laidback approach and a confidence in his own ability help account for why Jurgen Klopp felt he had the personality as well as the talent to flourish at Anfield.

Van Dijk comes from a Dutch tradition of being open with his views – he accused Harry Kane of diving to win a penalty in Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-2 draw on Sunday – but he is capable of blocking out the background noise of talk about him. “It is a strength of mine to not really bother too much when people have their opinions, especially negative opinions,” he added.

“You are always going to be judged. I know because I made such a big step right now, for a lot of money, everything is going to be analysed. No one is going to look at the good things that you do. Everybody is going to watch the bad things and that is how it is.”

Van Dijk was unconcerned when Jamie Carragher, Liverpool’s best centre-back of the Premier League era, suggested he needed to lose weight. He reasoned: “Other people around – fans of other clubs, pundits – can have their opinions, but it doesn’t really bother me.”

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk, left, tackles Tottenham substitute Erik Lamela in the area, which led to a second Tottenham penalty, dispatched by Harry Kane, for a 2-2 draw at Anfield. Peter Powell / EPA
Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk, left, tackles Tottenham substitute Erik Lamela in the area, which led to a second Tottenham penalty, dispatched by Harry Kane, for a 2-2 draw at Anfield. Peter Powell / EPA

That may be just as well. His Liverpool career began superbly, with a late winner on his debut in a Merseyside derby. They have not won in his three subsequent appearances, losing to Swansea City, being knocked out of the FA Cup by West Bromwich Albion and conceding six goals.

The last of those cost Liverpool victory on Sunday, Van Dijk’s injury-time challenge on Erik Lamela leading to the spot kick Kane did convert. The newcomer is aware general conclusions can be drawn from isolated incidents. He preferred to focus on his display as a whole, arguing Liverpool’s much-criticised rearguard acquitted themselves well against Spurs.

“I know when I am doing well and exactly when I am doing wrong,” he said. “That is what I am working on and obviously [on Sunday] no one will talk about my performance in general. We defended very well, had two penalties against us with a lot of question marks around them, but I know that as a team and the players around me, we did very well against one of the best strikers in Europe.”

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In a culture of knee-jerk reactions, there is a rush to judgment. Van Dijk accepts it uncomplainingly, but Klopp has stressed he was signed for the long term. He is in an acclimatisation period, adjusting to a side who play with a higher defensive line and who commit more players forward. “The football we play - the pressing, the different options with players – is totally different. So you need time to get used to everything,” he said.

He may be denied time in the court of popular opinion. Minds will probably be made up at St Mary’s when Van Dijk returns to Southampton on Sunday. Some of Liverpool’s contingent of former Saints are jeered and the Dutchman said: “Maybe they can boo the whole game. What can you do about it? You can’t do anything about it. I made the decision. I have moved on.”