Virgil van Dijk has reflected on his time on the sidelines and the motivation behind his bid to return “the best player he can be” for Liverpool after his long-term knee injury.
Van Dijk has been out since October’s Merseyside derby, having undergone surgery to repair his ACL following a brutal challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
The Dutchman has undoubtedly been a huge loss for the Reds, and though stability is finally returning to defence with the partnership of Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips, there is a clear absence of Van Dijk’s quality and leadership.
Though not expected back before the end of the season, there remains hope that he could play a minimal role in the run-in as he targets a place in the Netherlands squad at the Euros.
However, Van Dijk will remain pragmatic and, hopefully, not rush back after such a long spell out, with the expertise of Liverpool’s medical staff preparing him to eventually return as “the best player he can be.”
“In this period of being injured, it makes you think about loads of stuff, and appreciate even more what you’ve got,” he told JBL.
“Obviously, it’s not easy, but the most important thing for me is to stay true to myself and work as hard as I can.
“So, if the time comes back and I’ll be back playing again, then I just have to enjoy every bit of it and try to be the best player I can be.
“I won’t take anything for granted. I just work, enjoy, have a smile on my face and try to stay fit.”
After the initial shock, Van Dijk has been outwardly positive about his rehabilitation, sharing regular updates of his work both in Dubai and back at Kirkby, where he is currently focusing on his recovery.
The 29-year-old has already been pictured running and working with a ball outside at Liverpool’s training ground, with it anticipated that he is significantly further along than Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.
Gomez posted a brief video of his gym work via his Instagram story on Thursday, with Van Dijk’s fellow centre-back working on rebuilding strength in his left knee having also required surgery to repair a damaged tendon in November.
To have both Van Dijk and Gomez back would be a major lift for Liverpool at the start of next season, while the possible return of Matip in time for pre-season would provide top-level cover in defence.
Along with Phillips and potentially Kabak – who is available for £18 million as part of the Reds’ loan deal with Schalke – the centre-back ranks could also be bolstered by the arrival of Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig.
Rhys Williams, Billy Koumetio and Sepp van den Berg are among the options within the academy, though the latter has almost exclusively been fielded as a right-back during his loan at Preston.