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Virgil van Dijk’s five-word dressing room message gives Liverpool and FSG another big decision to make

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Virgil van Dijk sent a clear message during and following Liverpool’s remarkable League Cup final win over Chelsea on Sunday.

As his jubilant team-mates bounced to the music in the dressing room, Virgil van Dijk, his winners’ medal draped around his neck, stared straight down the camera and delivered his message.

“They thought I was finished,” said the Liverpool captain, before a shrug of the shoulders and a knowing smile into the lens.

Meanwhile, deep within the bowels of Wembley, Jurgen Klopp was facing the gathered media throng when asked about the colossal contribution of the centre-back to the Reds’ remarkable League Cup triumph against Chelsea.

“Virgil van Dijk from the first day since he stepped into Liverpool FC is absolutely outstanding,” said the Liverpool manager. “But you anyway in his lesser-good moments go for him like he didn’t want to perform. ‘Why is he like that?’. Sorry, they’re human beings, it happens from time to time.”

Certainly, questions had been asked, for the first time in his Liverpool career, of Van Dijk during a difficult opening half to the previous campaign that culminated on his return from the World Cup by picking up a hamstring injury that sidelined him for more than a month.

A red card at the start of the current term at Newcastle United prompted more whispers. Was Van Dijk, long celebrated by many as the best centre-back of his generation, on the slide?

The subsequent evidence has been a resounding negative. Van Dijk may not be quite as fast or have the same reaction time as previously – at 32 years of age, that’s understandable – but he has successfully tweaked his game to accommodate the change in himself and the approach of the team.

Being handed the captain’s armband has also had a reinvigorating effect, Van Dijk thus far revelling in the additional responsibility and, as the season has progressed, increasingly stepping up when required.

Never has that been more clear than on Sunday. As well as marshalling a defence that, admittedly partly due to the heroics of Caoimhin Kelleher in goal, were able to resist Chelsea’s attacking threat, the Dutchman also delivered in the opposing penalty area. Having had a header contentiously ruled out on the hour before, with only two minutes of extra time remaining he glanced a right-wing corner from substitute Kostas Tsimikas into the far corner for the dramatic winner.

Van Dijk’s celebration unwittingly highlighted the importance of his leadership. After a small jog before collapsing on to the turf, he was first met by Tsimikas. After that, though, came James McConnell, Jayden Danns, Jarell Quansah and Bobby Clark, who between them had totalled a sum of two Liverpool appearances between them before the start of the campaign.

Quansah, as a fellow centre-back, has benefited from the experience of featuring alongside and training regularly with Van Dijk. But the standards set by the captain are being felt throughout the club, particularly the next generation. His genuine aura inspires others, whether through his performances or personality.

By being named the official man of the match on Sunday, Van Dijk also broke new ground. After claiming a similar accolade in the League Cup final triumph against Chelsea in 2022 and the Champions League victory over Tottenham Hotspur in 2019, he became the first Liverpool player to be given three such awards. Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Steve McManaman each have two.

Fenway Sports Group, then, must make a new contract for Van Dijk a priority. The defender is approaching the last 12 months of his current deal and, regardless of who replaces the outgoing Klopp, will surely remain an integral part of the squad. Any team would benefit from having the Holland international.

 

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