Netherland’s captain Virgil van Dijk : fuelled his country’s run up at FIFA World Cup 2022 | Sunday Observer

Netherland’s captain Virgil van Dijk : fuelled his country’s run up at FIFA World Cup 2022

26 February, 2023
 Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk

Van Dijk represented the Netherlands at under-19 and under-21 levels. He made his senior international debut for the Netherlands in 2015 and assumed full captaincy of the national team in March 2018. The following year, Van Dijk captained the Netherlands to the final of the inaugural UEFA Nations League, where they finished runners-up.

Van Dijk believes that his nation’s run to the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals has “fuelled” his desire for international success.

After beginning his professional career with Groningen, Van Dijk moved to Celtic in 2013. With Celtic he won the Scottish Premiership and was named in the PFA Scotland Team of the Year in both of his seasons with the club, and won the Scottish League Cup in the second. In 2015, he joined Southampton before signing for Liverpool in January 2018.

With Liverpool, Van Dijk reached back-to-back UEFA Champions League finals in 2018 and 2019, winning the latter. He was also named PFA Players’ Player of the Year and the Premier League Player of the Season in his first season. Van Dijk later won the FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup, and helped end the club’s 30-year league title drought by winning the 2019/20 Premier League.

Birth and Growth

Virgil van Dijk was born on July 8, 1991 in Breda to a Dutch father and a Surinamese mother. Growing up he played football wherever he could - on the streets, in concrete cages, and eventually Saturday morning matches. He combined his time playing at the Willem II academy.

Van Dijk was shifted into a central defensive position in 2008, aged 17. In 2010, he was scouted by former Dutch international Martin Koeman, who was working for FC Groningen at the time, and he ended up completing a free transfer to the club in the same year.

Van Dijk commonly uses only his first name on the kit. Virgil is married to childhood sweetheart, Rike Nooitgedagt, and they have four children. Van Dijk has Chinese ancestry. Hellen FoSieeuw, his mother, is of part-Chinese descent.

Player Profile

Van Dijk is a physically strong, right-footed centre-back, who usually features on the left-hand side of central defence, although he can also play as a right-sided centre-back. He is gifted with pace, good technique, and an eye for goal, and is an effective set-piece taker.

The former Celtic teammate Kris Commons commented that Van Dijk was “comfortable on the ball,” also noting that “He had good technique and a wonderful right foot. He was good on set-pieces, some of the free-kicks he scored for Celtic are absolute wonders. He could read the game well. He had an aura about him, a confidence because I think he knew he was good.”

Neil McGuinness, senior scout at Celtic when Van Dijk was signed, called him “everything you would want if you could create a profile of the ideal central defender,” praising him as a “very smooth ball-playing defender” who possesses aerial prowess, skills from dead ball situations, and “strong leadership qualities.”

In 2019 Lionel Messi shared: “He is a defender who knows how to judge his timing and wait for the right moment to challenge. He is very fast and big, but he has a lot of agility for his height. He is fast because of its great stride, and he is impressive both in defence and attack because he scores lots of goals.

International Career

Van Dijk made his full international debut for Netherlands on October 10, 2015, in a 2–1 victory away from home against Kazakhstan in a UEFA Euro 2016 qualifier. He was awarded the captaincy of his country by manager Ronald Koeman on March 22, 2018.

On March 26, he scored his first international goal to conclude a 3-0 win over European champions Portugal. On October 13, he scored in a 3-0 win over 2014 World Cup champions Germany in the UEFA Nations League. More importantly, he scored the equaliser in the next match with Germany, after assistant coach Dwight Lodeweges sent him a small paper note during a break, with the request to play forward in the last minutes of the game. The goal enabled the Netherlands to win the group phase of the Nations League. He later captained his country to the final which they lost 1-0 against Portugal.

Netherlands at World Cup 2022

In November 2022, Van Dijk was announced as the Dutch captain for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. He led his team to the top of the group stage. The Netherlands beat Senegal 2-0, drew with Ecuador 1-1, beat the hosts Qatar 2-0.In the Round of 16, Netherlands beat USA 3-1.

The Netherlands justified its billing as the highest-ranked team (No. 8 in FIFA rankings) in Group A to top the final standings and progress to the round-of-16. With two wins and a draw, the Dutch were the deserving group champion under the able leadership of Van Dijk and brought up memories of the 2014 edition in Brazil, where they reached the semifinals.

The Netherlands run at the FIFA World Cup 2022 came to an end when they suffered its first defeat since June last year on December 9, losing to Argentina in a match that went all the way to a shootout during the quarter-finals. It was 2-2 through extra time with the Netherlands falling 3-4 on penalties to Lionel Messi’s Argentina who later won the tournament.

Club Career

Van Dijk initially struggled to break into Groningen’s first team after extensive playing time with Willem II’s academy and reserve sides. He made his professional debut for the club on May 1, 2011, coming on as a 72nd-minute substitute during a 4-2 victory against ADO Den Haag. On May 29, and against the same opposition, he made his first start for Groningen and scored his first professional goals, netting twice in a 5-1 win in a UEFA Europa League play-off match.

During the 2011/12 Eredivisie season, Van Dijk made 23 league appearances for the Eredivisie team, and scored his first regular-season goal during the club’s 6-0 victory over Feyenoord on October 30, 2011. After his 20th birthday, he was admitted to hospital with peritonitis and kidney poisoning. Van Dijk later revealed that he had been close to dying.

He did, however, return to Groningen and continued to impress the following season. At the end of the campaign, and with Van Dijk having “outgrown” the club, he was offered to several bigger Eredivisie clubs, including Ajax, all of which elected not to sign him.

On June 21, 2013, Van Dijk signed with Celtic for a fee of around £2.6 million, on a four-year deal including a 10% selling-on fee for Groningen. He made his debut on August 17, replacing Efe Ambrose for the final 13 minutes of a 2-0 Scottish Premiership win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie Stadium.

A week later, he made his first start, in a 2-2 draw with Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Celtic Park. On November 9, Van Dijk scored his first Celtic goals, heading one in each half of a 4-1 win against Ross County. After a solo run, he scored the only goal of a victory over St Johnstone on December 26.

Van Dijk scored again on January 26, 2014, in a 4-0 win versus Hibernian for Celtic’s 11th consecutive league win. With Celtic having already won the league, Van Dijk netted again on May 7, to put his team 3-1 up away to St. Johnstone, in an eventual 3-3 draw. He was one of three Celtic players named in the PFA Scotland Team of the Year.

On July 22, 2014, Van Dijk scored twice in a 4-0 home win over KR in a UEFA Champions League qualifier, putting their team into the next round 5-0 on aggregate. His first goal of the Premiership season came on November 9.

Three weeks later, Van Dijk scored the first and last goals of Celtic’s 4-0 win versus Heart of Midlothian in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup. Four days after that, his sixth goal of the season was enough for victory in a home match against Glasgow neighbours Partick Thistle.

Van Dijk was again on target on January 21, 2015, opening a 4-0 home win over Motherwell. Van Dijk played the full 90 minutes of the final at Hampden Park, which Celtic won 2-0. On March 18, Celtic’s third consecutive match against Dundee United, Van Dijk scored in the last minute to confirm a 4-0 win in a Cup replay.

On April 19, Celtic contested the Cup semi-final against Inverness at Hampden, and Van Dijk opened the scoring with a free kick. Three days later, again from a free kick, he confirmed a 2-1 win away to Dundee. His team again won the league, and Van Dijk was included in the league’s Team of the Season for the second consecutive campaign. He was again shortlisted for the PFA Scotland Players’ Player award.

On September 1, 2015, Van Dijk signed a five-year contract with Premier League club Southampton for a reported £13 million transfer fee. He made his debut for Southampton on September 12, in a scoreless draw against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns.

Two weeks later, Van Dijk marked his third Premier League appearance with his first goal for the club, which came in the form of a header in the 11th minute to put Southampton in front, following a set-piece from James Ward-Prowse in a 3–1 home win over Swansea City.

On May 7, 2016, Van Dijk signed a new six-year contract with the Saints. On January 22, 2017, he was named team captain of Southampton. On the same day, he suffered an ankle injury against Leicester City. This ruled him out of the 2017 EFL Cup Final, which Southampton lost to Manchester United.

Van Dijk remained with Southampton for the start of the 2017/18 season and made his first appearance since being injured in January, coming on as a late substitute in a 1-0 victory on September 26. He made his final appearance for Southampton on December 13, 2017.

Joining Liverpool

On December 27, 2017, it was announced that Van Dijk would join Liverpool for a reported fee of £75 million. He made his debut for Liverpool on January 5, in the third round of the FA Cup and scored the winning goal with a late header in a 2-1 victory against Everton. In doing so, he became the first player since Bill White in 1901 to score on his debut in the Merseyside derby.

Van Dijk was included in the UEFA Champions League Squad of the Season with the UEFA Technical Observers saying: “Van Dijk arrived at Anfield and provided composure and stability in the competition’s knockout stages.” Van Dijk played the full 90 minutes in the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid, which Liverpool lost 1-3.Van Dijk played 22 games in all competitions in his first season with the club, scoring once.

On August 20, 2018, Van Dijk was voted man of the match by BBC Sport and Sky Sports for his performance in a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. Van Dijk received the Liverpool Player of the Month award for his performances in August. On December 2, Van Dijk was awarded an assist for the winning goal in a derby match against city rivals Everton. Liverpool won 1-0 thanks to Divock Origi’s 96th-minute goal, set up by a Van Dijk volley and a subsequent error from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

The Dutchman was ultimately awarded the PFA Player of the Month for November 2018. On 21 December, Van Dijk scored his first goal in the Premier League for Liverpool in a 2-0 away win against Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Dutchman continued his impressive form in the 2018/19 season by winning the Premier League Player of the Month prize for December 2018.

On February 27, 2019, Van Dijk scored twice in a 5-0 win against Watford. The following month, he scored once, his first goal in the Champions League for the club and assisted another in a 3-1 win over Bayern Munich. In doing so, he became the first player since Craig Bellamy in 2007 to score and assist in a goal for Liverpool in a knock-out stage match away from home in the competition.

On Apzil 28, 2019, he was named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year. Following Liverpool’s 2–0 victory over Tottenham in the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final on June 1, Van Dijk was named UEFA’s man of the match. In August 2019, Van Dijk won the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year Award.

On September 23, 2019, he was voted runner up in The Best FIFA Men’s Player and into the FIFA FIFpro Men’s World 11.In October 2019, Van Dijk was shortlisted as one in 30 football players for the Ballon d’Or. At the event in December, he finished runner-up behind Lionel Messi.

On December 21, 2019, after missing the semi-final of the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup with illness, Van Dijk played in the final against Flamengo with Liverpool winning the trophy for the first time in the club’s history.

Van Dijk received further recognition following the turn of the year when he was named in the 2019 UEFA Team of the Year. On January 19, 2020, Van Dijk scored his first North-West Derby goal against Manchester United in Liverpool’s 2-0 win at Anfield in the Premier League.

Over the course of the 2019/20 domestic campaign, Van Dijk started and completed every minute for Liverpool. On September 12, 2020, Van Dijk scored a headed goal against Leeds United on the opening day of the new season.

After a 9-month long injury, Van Dijk made his first appearance on July 29, 2021, coming on as a second-half substitute in a friendly against Hertha BSC. On August 13, 2021, Van Dijk signed a new four-year contract, keeping him at the club until 2025.

His first goal for Liverpool in over 14 months came against his former club Southampton, when he hit a volley from a corner. On October 29, 2022, Liverpool lost 2–1 at home to Leeds United which was Van Dijk’s first home defeat at Anfield in the Premier League after 70 games since joining the club in January 2018.

(The author is an Associate Professor, International Scholar, winner of Presidential Awards and multiple National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil, and double MSc. His email is [email protected])