Neil Ruddock has said that Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk isn’t ‘what he was’ prior to the fateful long-term injury which sidelined him for almost the entire 2020/21 season.
The Dutchman was regarded as arguably the world’s best player in his position at the start of the decade, finishing second in the 2019 Ballon D’Or, but he was sidelined for nine months after an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury inflicted upon him by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in October 2020.
The newly-appointed Reds captain has faced some criticism over his defending since that comeback two years ago, and one of his centre-back predecessors at Anfield has claimed the current number 4 hasn’t been able to hit his previous heights ever since his lengthy layoff.
Speaking on talkSPORT (1 August, 8:15am), Ruddock said of Van Dijk: “I don’t think he’s been himself after he did his knee against Everton when he did his ACL. I don’t think you can be, can you be the best player or up to the same standards because he was relying on pace?
“People would run at him and he’d just show them into positions and he’d just get the ball and he’d block shots. He’s a great player, one of the best in the world but I don’t think he’s what he was, I think he’s lost half a yard or a yard.”
When a player suffers such a serious injury just as they’re coming into their 30s, as happened to Van Dijk, it’s natural that they’d find it difficult to get back to the same heights they’d hit beforehand.
Maybe the Dutchman isn’t quite the imperious behemoth who previously went 65 matches without being dribbled past once (Squawka), but he’s still a formidable centre-back who’d be the envy of virtually every club in the world.
Nor was Van Dijk’s game prior to his ACL injury massively reliant on speed – in 2019, Lionel Messi proclaimed the Liverpool star as ‘a defender who knows how to judge his timing and wait for the right moment to challenge’ (Marca).
The 32-year-old’s game intelligence often enabled him to take up a position where he wouldn’t have to rush back and make a last-ditch tackle.
Even if he never quite rediscovers the levels he exhibited four years ago, the Reds’ new captain is still a superb defender who we’re very fortunate to have at Anfield.