Football

Why Virgil van Dijk is the world’s best defender

Reds youngster Hoever explains why pundits and players rate the 27-year-old so highly

  • Liverpool lead 2-0 after first leg

More than any other player, Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk has been dubbed the best defender in the world.

His peers, like Mats Hummels and Jamaal Lascelles, think so.

  QUARTER-FINAL, 2ND LEG
PORTO LIVERPOOL

Managers, such as Claude Puel, and obviously Juergen Klopp, think so.

Pundits are falling over themselves to anoint him.

Van Dijk's fans include Jamie Carragher, Jamie Redknapp, Dietmar Hamann, Paul Merson and Chris Sutton.

Phil Babb has gone one step further, suggesting that the 1.93m star can be one of the greatest defenders in the history of the game.

Statistics lend credibility to his case - no one has dribbled past the 27-year-old Dutchman in the English Premier League and Champions League this season.

So what makes van Dijk so good?

Ahead of Liverpool's Champions League quarter-final, second-leg away clash against Porto tomorrow morning (Singapore time) - the Reds lead 2-0 after the first leg - teammate Ki-Jana Hoever offered his thoughts.

The highly rated 17-year-old Dutchman, who watches his compatriot up close in training at Melwood, told The Daily Mirror: "Virgil is the best defender in the world - and I can say that with 100 per cent certainty.

"He is so good that the great thing about Liverpool now is that it is not just the strikers and attackers in our team who get all the praise.

"They used to always get the credit, but something has changed.

"People now understand and see the importance of great defending.

"And it isn't just watching him play against the best forwards in the world that makes me admire him.

"When I play alongside him in training, I see all the details, his hunger for perfection, the way he coaches me, his positioning and his little comments towards me. He seems to be right all the time.

"I wonder, at those moments, why I did not see that or why I was not in that position before.

"That, for me, is pure class...

"There is a little detail in Virgil's game - that I call the shoulder. He is always looking over his shoulder.

"He is always aware what is going on around him.

"He has his own game to concentrate on, but he is paying attention to everyone else, too."

That is a far cry from how van Dijk used to be regarded in his native Holland.

His first club Willem II Tilburg, thought he had "too many limitations", according to a former reserve coach.

Even when he began to shine at Groningen, the doubts remained.

Van Dijk turned down Brighton & Hove Albion and a big payday at Russian club Krasnodar in hope of moving to one of the Dutch Eredivisie's giants.

But, when Groningen offered him to Ajax Amsterdam, the Dutch giants' technical director Marc Overmars opted for Mike van der Hoorn - who now plays for second-tier Swansea City.

Then-Holland coach Louis van Gaal was no more accommodating when van Dijk moved on to star at Celtic.

He overlooked him for his World Cup 2014 squad in favour of Terence Kongolo and Bruno Martins Indi, now at Huddersfield Town and Stoke City respectively.

Far from "the shoulder", van Gaal's scouts showed him videos of the central defender letting forwards run away behind his back.

The former Barcelona, Manchester United and Bayern Munich coach said van Dijk "didn't defend forward" or attack the ball.

As recently as last year, current Holland coach Ronald Koeman accused him of being "too laid back" at times.

However, van Dijk has finally achieved acclaim in his country, being named Oranje captain and forming a formidable central defensive partnership with Matthijs de Ligt.

Not that van Dijk is buying into the best defender in the world hype.

He said: "Nobody can really claim that title - it's just about opinions. We just need to enjoy it when players are doing well for their teams and I'm feeling good at the moment...

"There are plenty of good central defenders around and I enjoy watching them.

"If I watch big games like the Champions League on TV, then I'm definitely watching what different centre-backs are doing in certain situations."

Football