Inside the dappled coloration, away from the glare of the Spanish sun, Virgil van Dijk thinks approximately phrases which include anxiety and nerves with a bit smile. This is supposed to be the hardest time, with the times transferring slowly between the quit of the regular season and Liverpool’s Champions League final against Tottenham in Madrid subsequent Saturday night time.
Van Dijk become named PFA participant of the season with the aid of his fellow experts, after his imperious shape on the coronary heart of Liverpool’s defence helped make certain his membership lost simply one match in a league campaign that earned them ninety seven points. They still finished a factor in the back of Manchester metropolis, and their wait to win the league identify rolls over right into a 30th yr.
Victory over Spurs, and becoming champions of Europe for a sixth time, would seal a superb season for Van Dijk and Liverpool with a heady gloss. Defeat, and yet extra disappointment after dropping the very last remaining 12 months, would be crushing. The assessment between the two results is so deep that even a man as composed as Van Dijk must be churning on the inner?
“No,” the 27-yr-old insists. “I’m in no way frightened any extra.”
That “any extra” is huge because it’s far striking to hear Van Dijk mirror at the doubts that when undermined him. Within the Netherlands he turned into seemed as a fairly confined player through severa coaches who did now not consider his rise to emerge as, arguably, the best defender inside the world. The road has been long and hard however, out of adversity, Van Dijk is as calm throughout a fevered suit as he is off the pitch.
“With experience,” he says, “the anxiety isn’t there. After I made my debut for Liverpool against Everton [in January 2018] i was more excited than apprehensive. I amazed myself that day with my calm.”
Other than scoring the triumphing intention in front of the Kop, Van Dijk placed an immediate dent in the stress that would have consumed him after he arrived at Anfield as the world’s maximum high priced defender. The £75m paid to Southampton now looks like prudent house responsibilities. Van Dijk has converted Liverpool’s formerly flaky defence so markedly that they conceded the fewest quantity of desires, 22, inside the league final season.
“It’s more exhilaration than nerves these days,” he maintains. “Even before the Champions League final remaining 12 months [against Real Madrid] i used to be not nervous at all. I was very at ease. I was like: ‘permit’s go, allow’s try this.’”
At Liverpool’s schooling camp close to Estepona at the Costa del Sol, Van Dijk shakes his head cheerfully. “I don’t recognize what it’s far. It’s just something I’ve learned over time and it’s something I’m very glad about. If you’re worried you think: ‘I don’t want to make mistakes or give the ball away.’ however you limit your personal features then. Through the years I’ve developed the attitude that there are numerous more essential matters in life.”
Van Dijk remembers dreaming about gambling in a Champions League very last when he was a boy in Breda with a Dutch father and a mom from Suriname. Yet at the Cruyff Courts, small pitches manufactured from artificial grass, Van Dijk become not a glittering link inside the conveyor belt of Dutch footballers following Johan Cruyff – who performed and coached the game so beautifully.
He observed a distinctive course to the talented young gamers from Ajax whom he now captains with the Netherlands and who came so close to achieving the Champions League final themselves. Van Dijk is also distinctive to Trent Alexander-Arnold, his Liverpool teammate gambling a 2d Champions League very last on the age of 20. While Van Dijk turned into 20 he turned into struggling to make the primary team at Groningen, having in no way cracked it at the academy of Willem II. He had even labored as a dishwasher two nights a week.
Become his remedy cast at some stage in that tough time? “Yeah. I assume it’s a excellent example to never surrender. Preserve working in your desires. Each step of my profession became hard paintings. I’ve given the whole lot I’ve were given but I’ve still were given extra to are available every issue of my recreation. Maybe they were right at the time. Perhaps it turned into intended to be that they didn’t want to take a chance with me. As a young player inside the academy for a mid-desk membership the next step is one of the pinnacle four teams. That turned into my plan as well – but it didn’t occur.”
Marc Overmars was provided a risk to signal Van Dijk for Ajax but he rejected the defender. “this stuff show up,” Van Dijk says diplomatically. “They selected Mike van der Hoorn who plays for Swansea now. He did very well at the time. It’s smooth to mention now: ‘What if?’”
Van Dijk became not serene then. “No. I wanted matters right away. When I went to Groningen I began inside the beneath-23s and i was at the bench. I was like: ‘What’s going on here?’ I went to the manager Dick Lukkien and i was arguing with him from side to side, pronouncing: ‘How is that this feasible?’ but I found out so much from that duration. I grew as a person.
“It turned into the first time i was by myself and i had to discover ways to address not getting my way. I went to training on a bicycle. It become the same the following season. Happily, I stored working hard, stored improving, and i’m nevertheless in touch with Dick who’s the pinnacle train of FC Emmen now. He’s a exquisite instruct and were given the satisfactory out of me. He pushed me due to the fact he knew I can be a chunk lazy. He knew my mentality then changed into to do just sufficient to win challenges. He stored pushing me and made me angry at times. It became tough however it labored. Earlier than the stop of the season I made my debut inside the first crew. I’m so thankful to Dick.”
Van Dijk spent weeks in clinic after his appendix burst and he developed extreme peritonitis. His existence turned into in short in threat. Yet Van Dijk is gracious and, after a pause, he does speak. “It wasn’t easy. It turned into a period that I looked after myself for the primary time in my existence. I couldn’t cook dinner. I lived with any other player and if you’re that young you suspect it’s smooth. We just had education. We’re no longer going to try to cook dinner. We’re going somewhere to devour. After I ate so much rubbish, the appendix become affected. I stored eating terrible things. The appendix burst, and it changed into a very hard time. I found out a lot about meals and that we must cost every scenario we’re in.”
He could not stroll for 10 days and reputedly signed a will to depart the little he needed to his mother. “when something like that occurs you watched lots and these days I appreciate the entirety we’ve got. I recognise that lifestyles is a lot more than football. We’ve got circle of relatives and it’s all about being glad and healthful.”
Van Dijk performed 62 games for Groningen however his profession took off whilst he moved to Celtic. He laughs whilst requested approximately the trade of tradition in Glasgow. “It become big. I spoke pretty desirable English however the Scottish accessory is completely special. I remember in the beginning people were speaking and i used to be simply nodding and saying sure. However going to Celtic was wonderful for me even if it changed into the equal state of affairs I had in Holland. [Bigger] clubs doubted my ability because they thought the same old became not so excessive in Scotland. I kept operating tough and i always believed in myself. And the fans at Celtic are outstanding. They live and die for his or her membership. That’s some thing i like – real fanatics, actual ardour. It’s why I also made the decision to come to Liverpool.”
He might be immune to nerves however, in advance this month, Van Dijk couldn’t manage his racing thoughts or the adrenaline coursing thru him all night after Liverpool beat Barcelona 4-zero to attain the Champions League very last. “I couldn’t sleep lots – perhaps hours. It become totally loopy. From the instant we arrived on the stadium you had the feeling it could be some thing special. When Divock Origi scored that early goal you could experience the belief. The entirety turned into ideal that night time. It wasn’t like we had luck. We definitely deserved it because anyone might say a team 3-zero down against Barcelona isn’t always going to do it. Messi’s going to attain – and if they scored one it became almost not possible. However we did it.”
Spurs produced a fair extra dramatic comeback against Ajax the subsequent night. They had been three-zero at the back of on mixture whilst a Lucas Moura hat-trick, capped via a prevailing intention inside the 96th minute, left Van Dijk’s young teammates inside the Dutch country wide side crumpled on the turf. “I couldn’t accept as true with it both however I told them later they will be very proud of themselves. In case you’re very critical you can say Ajax gave it away in the 2nd 1/2 due to the fact they didn’t play their own game. However they had been exceptional this whole campaign and placed Ajax and Dutch football again at the map.”
Spurs had been almost lifeless and buried inside the group level, with one factor from three video games, and came thru an surprising quarter-final wherein they knocked out Manchester metropolis. Their fans may be excused for churning out the old cliche about their call being at the cup whilst profiting from the truth that Liverpool are really under extra pressure to win a trophy.
“Liverpool is usually about pressure,” he responds, “but we should experience it. We have a great threat of winning however this is a huge sport for them as well. They’ve shown that in addition they by no means surrender. We need to be geared up.”
Liverpool beat Spurs 2-1 in each league games this season however their most recent encounter at Anfield turned into fraught with tension. At 1-1, with 5 mins left, Van Dijk needed to deal with the dual risk of Son Heung-min and Moussa Sissoko bearing down on purpose. Sissoko had the ball but the dynamic Son was screaming down the right into space. With magisterial judgment, Van Dijk focused on last down Son at the same time as allowing Sissoko to power ahead. With his choice of passing to Son blocked through Van Dijk, Sissoko shifted directly to his weaker left foot. Knowing he had negated the presence of the greater lethal Son, Van Dijk ran at the Spurs midfielder. Sissoko rushed and shot wildly over the bar. Liverpool breathed once more and a couple of minutes later Anfield went ballistic whilst a Toby Alderweireld own intention received them the suit.
“It worked out,” Van Dijk says of the choices that meant he avoided a goal with out even making a address. “but it’d no longer have seemed so clever if Sissoko had scored. However as a centre-again you get higher with revel in.” Such moments meant Van Dijk turned into voted participant of the season. “i used to be very proud to win the PFA trophy due to the fact generally an attacker or a midfielder wins it. In later years i will look again and be even extra proud.”
As for his very own vote, Van Dijk turned into split. “i used to be wondering Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva. Bernardo is amazing and he’s a brilliant man. I chatted with him more than one instances. He’s going to be very critical for city the following few years. However Raheem made a big step and that’s why I voted for him. I ought to’ve voted for any other four or 5 players at city because they were tremendous. But they may’ve voted for 4 or five of our gamers too. Perhaps Trent, Sadio [Mané], Gini”.
He has been together with his spouse, Rike, “because the Groningen days [when he was 20]. The growth we’ve been through given that then is exceptional and we’ve little women. You can’t deny that fatherhood modifications you. There are constantly tough moments however when you pass home in your spouse and kids it’s all long gone. For instance whilst we lost to Barcelona you sense awful – but you cross domestic and you observed how some distance I’ve were given. I cope with those aspects very well.”
Van Dijk does a number of charity work, which he asks the football writers on Merseyside to play down. “I’d as a substitute just be everyday. Whilst i can assist people, i can actually help. Rike may be very keen so we do it now after which. Low-key’s better. We paintings with the foundation in Liverpool. We’re supporting households. We’re additionally ambassadors of an orphanage in Nepal. Now and again it’s small matters. Signing boots, inviting a person to a sport in our container. Something very small for us is a very massive gesture to others. We appreciate that but we like human beings no longer to suppose we’re better than them. We’re all the same.”
There can not be equality on the end of a Champions League very last and for the losers the ache could be harsh. Will it experience specifically difficult for Liverpool if their stupendous season leaves them without a trophy? “It’s going to hurt if you lose – but it’s not the quit of the world. The only aspect we can do is to give the entirety and haven’t any regrets if they’re the better group. We’re no longer considering losing or how we’re going to overcome this barrier of losing the top of the line League by one point, then losing the Champions League. That’s no longer worth considering. I’m thinking about playing to our fine capacity with all our talent and enjoy.