It is one year to the day since Virgil van Dijk learned the extent of his ACL injury, and though he is his “biggest critic,” the Dutchman is “playing with a lot of joy.”
It was October 17, 2020, when Van Dijk was scythed down by Jordan Pickford and ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The following day, the centre-back received the news that he would require surgery and miss the remainder of the campaign, with further injuries to Joe Gomez and Joel Matip derailing Liverpool’s season.
Now, Van Dijk is back fit and has made nine starts from possible 11 so far this term, including playing every minute in the Premier League.
He is likely to make his 10th start of the campaign against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, and took part in the pre-match press conference on the anniversary of his injury diagnosis.
“It’s a year ago, yeah. But I’m just happy where I am today, that’s how I look at it,” he reflected.
“Playing on the highest level again, I’m playing with a lot of joy.
“We’re working really hard to get good results, and so far we’ve been getting good results.
“There is obviously still a lot to improve, there’s for me personally still a lot to improve as well. But the only thing I can do is take it day by day.
“I’m not a robot, I’ve come back from a very serious knee injury.
“I know there’s a lot of eyes pointed in my direction and will be – there already was before, but now even more – but it’s something that I’m not thinking of.
“I’m my biggest critic, I know exactly when I can do things better – and when things are going well too.
“How I see it is just to improve, to improve as much as I can, and so far so good. I’m very confident in the way I see things.”
Van Dijk has been as composed as ever at the back, helping Liverpool keep five clean sheets in his nine outings since returning, while his long-range passing was particularly devastating against Watford on Saturday.
However, the 30-year-old is of the belief that he is not back to his best yet – nor should he be, insisting there are not “a lot of examples” of athletes suffering his injury and returning to the top level within a year.
“I’m still on the way,” he stressed.
“It’s still everyone’s opinion. I know there are a lot of eyes pointing in my direction, ‘is he going to be back in the same way’ and stuff.
“The only thing I can do is try my best each and every game, that’s what I do. I feel like I’m improving.
“Everyone knows how difficult it is to come back from a knee injury, and I don’t think there are a lot of examples of players who had an ACL or a complex knee injury and is back to his best after a year.
“I have work to do. But I don’t think about what others have to say, or judge. I want to be as good as I can for the team I play for and the fans I play for and, in my case, the country I play for.
“The only thing to get there is play games, get better, get more confident in the things you do, get back to normal things.
“So far, it’s going the right way and I’m feeling fine. There’s always room for improvement.”