Virgil van Dijk was criticised by Marco van Basten for his performance in the Netherlands’ 1-1 draw with Ecuador, which he admits “triggered” him.
Van Dijk is captaining his country in his first-ever major tournament at the World Cup, but it has not been as comprehensive a start as he would have hoped for.
After a 2-0 victory over Senegal was followed by a clash with Ecuador that saw the Netherlands struggle for fluency, with Cody Gakpo‘s early strike cancelled out by Enner Valencia.
Liverpool’s No. 4 appeared to back off and allow Valencia a free shot on goal for his 49th-minute equaliser, and after the draw came in for heavy criticism from Van Basten.
The Dutch legend argued that Van Dijk was “just waiting,” rather than closing Valencia down, adding that “[he] is actually the best, but does the least in terms of initiative.”
It is, actually, a familiar criticism of the 31-year-old’s approach since returning from a long-term injury, with a number of Liverpool supporters of the belief that he has stepped off in intensity.
But in an interview with AD, Van Dijk has responded to Van Basten’s words, explaining that he saw them as “an attack on me as a person.”
“It felt a bit like an attack on me as a person, on my role as a leader,” he said.
“I thought that at such a moment, so shortly after the game, well…that just triggered me. I’m only human.
“That Van Basten says that I should have put more pressure on the ball for that goal, that I did too little? Fine. Those are football moments.
“We must also be critical. I know very well when I make a mistake, or when I can do something better.”
As Van Dijk continued, he spoke about the difference in playing for Liverpool and the Netherlands, shifting from the left of a centre-back pairing to the middle of a back three.
That, he feels, is the overriding reason why he is seen as having less “initiative” than the likes of Nathan Ake and Jurrien Timber.
“In the buildup, the left and right centre-backs are perhaps even more important,” he explained.
“And rightly so: Nathan Ake is left-footed, Jurrien Timber is also very good on the ball.
“In my role I often have the striker in front of me, and I am the lock on the door. I feel very comfortable with that, I really do, but it is a slightly different role.”