It took the best part of the year after Jordan Pickford’s reckless challenge in the Merseyside derby for Van Dijk to be considered ready for action again.
As he stepped up to the touchline alongside another long-term absentee in Joe Gomez, the relief and joy was etched on the Dutchman’s face, replacing Nat Phillips for the final 20 minutes of a pre-season friendly.
The result – a 4-3 loss to Hertha Berlin – was academic, with Van Dijk and Gomez’s return to the field the overriding positive as Liverpool work their way back to sharpness ahead of the Premier League kickoff.
There is still a way to go for Jurgen Klopp‘s centre-back pair, with the manager describing it as a “first step” towards getting back into the side.
But the magnitude of the occasion was felt by Van Dijk as he took to social media with an emotional message after the game in Innsbruck, thanking the staff, his team-mates, the fans and his family for their support.
“285 days ago, I started on a journey back towards playing,” he wrote.
“It’s hard to express how I am feeling, but it’s important to me that I say I feel blessed to have had the support of so many incredible people.
“The surgeon, my physios, coaches and staff who have been with me in my corner since day one. My teammates for giving me energy and keeping my head up. The fans for their love, support and encouragement.
“And most of all, my family because without them, I’d be nothing.
“Thank you. The work doesn’t stop now. It’s only just starting. We keep going!”
Van Dijk’s next opportunity for game time will come against Bologna on August 5, with Liverpool to play two 60-minute friendlies against the Serie A club in Evian, France.