It’s no small chance that Liverpool’s return to being one of the world’s most feared clubs coincided with signing Virgil Van Dijk for a cool £75m.
At the time, that price tag understandably raised a few eyebrows – it now seems cheap.
Drafting in the Dutch colossus was undoubtedly the turning point for Jürgen Klopp, who has turned a side once infamous for cracking under pressure into an efficient machine on course to break every kind of Premier League record.
Few would argue that Van Dijk’s influence has been integral to that success – but how does he size up against the league’s greatest of all time?
Who is he up against?
In terms of English football, there’s probably five big names you’re pitting him up against.
Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, John Terry, Vincent Kompany, and Tony Adams have all at some point been the best centre back in the league, and arguably the world.
Ferdinand’s positional awareness and ice-cool composure in tight situations made him a constant joy to watch. That effortlessness is probably the most comparable to the Dutchman’s playing style.
Vidic and Terry would both run through walls for their clubs and that fearlessness was as admirable as it was completely terrifying. This no-holds-barred approach to the game is something we’re yet to see in Van Dijk’s game, though it’s never been needed due to his ability to read games so well.
Adams and Kompany became symbols of solidity at Arsenal and City, leading their sides through their most successful periods. That solidity is definitely replicated here, the success? Only time will tell.
How does he compare?
Over the last couple of years, it seems like Van Dijk has taken elements from all of the above into his own game. While he rarely finds the need to launch himself into tackles, that’s thanks to the same intelligence that Ferdinand became famous for.
If we’re judging purely on ability, there’s no denying that he’s as good as his predecessors at the very least. With that being said, talent can’t be the only factor in this debate.
Great centre backs are leaders, something that is again tough to fault. As we’ve already mentioned, Van Dijk signalled the turning point in Liverpool‘s fortunes. Not only through his individual brilliance, but the confidence he instils in those around him.
The influence he’s had on his teammates has been priceless and it certainly factors into his standing amongst the game’s greatest.
After winning the Champion’s League last year and the Premier League all but secured this time round, the one flaw people have cited in Van Dijk’s claim is slowly disappearing.
Realistically, the Dutchman has to perform at this elite level for at least another season to be considered one of the greatest to grace the Premier League.
From a pure ability standpoint, the defender has it in abundance. It’s no longer a question of Van Dijk’s talent, it’s whether he can maintain this level of consistent excellence for another season or two.
If he can do that, there’s a very real claim for him being the greatest Premier League defender we’ve witnessed – there’s still a way to go yet though for that consideration to be justified.
Featured image credit: Getty