News analysis

Buying van Dijk will signal Reds as serious challengers

LONDON • Perhaps only three players in the English Premier League have the ability, when at their best, to make everyone else on the pitch look like toddlers trying and failing to compete with giants.

Two of those players are on the wane - Yaya Toure and Zlatan Ibrahimovic - but the other should be approaching his prime.

If Liverpool sign Virgil van Dijk they will be making the ultimate upgrade to their team.

On one level it could be argued that to splurge £60 million (S$107 million) on any player is to blare a huge scouting or coaching failure, since a really savvy club might be able find or develop a less obvious solution.

But in terms of forking out for a surefire success, there is no better signing than van Dijk that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp could make to improve his rickety defence, no single purchase that could demonstrate more clearly the Reds' determination to clamber back atop that long-vacated perch.

Doubts about the seriousness of that ambition gained traction recently, as the club's apparent willingness to make do with half-cocked solutions suggested that their American owners might be satisfied with becoming the new Arsenal, full of tempered hope rather than true-blooded conviction.

Signing van Dijk would blast such a notion to smithereens. Of course, if he really has set his heart on a move to Anfield, then failing to complete the deal now, especially due to gauche antagonisation of the potential seller, would make the new Arsenal tag so apt that Liverpool might as well bang a cannon on their crest.

Southampton's Virgil van Dijk has been one of the Premier League's best defenders since he moved to England in 2015.
Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk has been one of the Premier League’s best defenders since he moved to England in 2015. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Van Dijk was majestic at Celtic and has been regal at Southampton, where, as soon as he arrived two years ago, he assumed a lordly guise, healing everyone who pined for Toby Alderweireld.

Powerful, fast and perceptive, he dominates in the air and on the ground, often with seemingly effortless grace.

Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and Liverpool's defenders have seemed locked into the opposite of a symbiotic relationship, a mutually debilitating bind in which the flaws of each sap the confidence of the other and ensnare the lot of them in a vicious circle of decrepitude.

Liverpool badly need a wholesome meat-and-potatoes centre-back, a stalwart who excels at defending's fundamentals.

Van Dijk is commanding enough to break that chain and impose order and confidence. That does not mean that Liverpool would not benefit from enriching their squad with a goalkeeper and left-back as solid as Fraser Forster and Ryan Bertrand, but van Dijk's arrival would make such additions less urgent.

Liverpool badly need a wholesome meat-and-potatoes centre-back, a stalwart who excels at defending's fundamentals.

Picture Mamadou Sakho on a good day. Now picture Sakho having a good day nearly every day. But van Dijk is much more than that.

He is a ball-playing centre-back of the sort that John Stones can supposedly become, a stopper who also creates. He can sashay forward with even more finesse than Joel Matip and, to boot, is a potent aerial threat from set pieces and can even take a mean free kick.

Whether in a back three or a back four, he could be Liverpool's answer to David Luiz.

If van Dijk is sincere about wanting to join Liverpool despite more lucrative offers from elsewhere, that speaks well of his character.

It suggests that he distinguishes between merely winning and winning gloriously, being a champion and a hero.

At Liverpool, his aim would be to become a leader in the team who satisfy one of English football's most intense cravings and end that generation-long yearning for the restoration of their domestic crown.

And maybe, their European one too.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2017, with the headline 'Buying van Dijk will signal Reds as serious challengers'. Print Edition | Subscribe