Why Van Dijk’s signing must be backed up this summer
In May 1999, Liverpool swooped to sign one of their best and most important modern players. He came from.obscurity and cost next to nothing. This author had never heard of that Finnish fella, as he was referred to at the time.
That ignorance soon changed and the towering centre-half joined Arnold Schwarzenegger as a personal childhood hero, with the Finn just edging the Austrian.
The fact that Hyypia was discovered by former captain Ron Yeats is a wonderful romantic detail. The man dubbed by Bill Shankly as a “colossus” had found a man cut from the same cloth. And for £2 million.
Hyypia was a wonderful defender. A giant at the back, he was calmness personified and a true leader. His timing of the tackle was guided by his telepathic reading of the game. Deceptively good on the ball, Hyypia was capable of playing it neatly from the back to midfield. And he was a capable goalscorer too.
Liverpool had won nothing for a decade, but six years of Hyypia inspired back lines later we were champions of Europe.
The fact that Liverpool’s renaissance in that era, occurred with Hyypia at the back was no coincidence. Any good team needs a commanding centre-back. Hyypia was a foundation stone for the club’s success.
In January this year Liverpool swooped for Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton. The Dutchman seemed a staggering, perhaps unnecessarily expensive purchase. However just weeks after his debut it became apparent that Klopp had signed one of his most important players.
After a near decade of weak defences and incapable centre halves, Van Dijk, at long last is the defender we needed. He has all the hallmarks of Hyypia, but is perhaps, crucially a yard or two quicker.
His presence in the back four has brought some much needed stability and steel. Lovren has also looked a lot more capable next to the Dutchman. Further more, he has brought improved communication and leadership to his post as he marshals his men on pitch.
There are strong and disappointing rumors that Klopp is not actually in the market for another centre-half this summer. He is rumored to be happy with Matip and Gomez as deputies. He also has Klavan as an option.
However much we all trust Klopp, this does smack of a risky strategy. Matip and Gomez are injury prone. So far, neither man has looked capable of offering a full campaign. It will be crucial that they return from their latest lay offs without too many dents in their form.
If they are to be relied on next season then they will both have to show improvements as well. Gomez is a quality player but has been dogged by injuries and yoyoing form thus far, while Matip was poor last season when called on. His lack of strength and presence in the air have been disappointing. He is excellent on the ball though and has better concentration than Lovren.
Van Dijk simply cannot play every week. There must be a quality option to serve as back up to him. While it is also worth noting that Lovren, despite a better showing last season is still error prone. Can we seriously challenge for the title with him?
Ultimately Klopp sees the players more than the rest of us. He knows what their abilities and weaknesses are. It’s encouraging that he’s got confidence in Gomez to shift over from full back too.
However you cannot help but feel a little nervous at prospect of no further defensive recruitment. Van Dijk is a title winning player. He looks the best, natural defender we’ve had at the club since Hyypia, and has helped massively to sure up a weak back four. We surely cannot afford to squander his quality by over playing him. He’s had his own injury issues in the past, so surely it’s worth while insuring our purchase with further reinforcements.