Van Dijk is answering his critics
VIRGIL VAN DIJK does not need the critics to tell him that his form has not been good enough.
But after a week which saw the Liverpool defender return to his humble roots in Holland, the 31-year-old admitted that the challenge is to show he is not a spent force.
Van Dijk took time out from international duty to return to his hometown of Breda for the official opening of a Johan Cruyff football court on the housing estate when he spent his formative years and next to the Olympia Catholic School he attended as a boy.
So it was a good time for Van Dijk to assess one of the toughest years of his career, when pundits like Marco van Basten, Roy Keane, Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville have gone in with both feet.
Van Dijk said: “I don’t feel too big to be vulnerable. It has been quite an intense season, with many ups and downs and people must understand that we aren’t robots.
“It has been a year in which I learned a lot – especially off the pitch, and certainly mentally.
“In football it’s never plain sailing – but this season was still quite a shock. Sometimes the criticism was just right, both on the team and on me individually.
“But quite often it was not quite right. Either way, you have to be able to deal with it – and I’m glad I came out of it well. Mentally, that’s not always easy.”
Van Basten’s verbal attack saw him accuse Van Dijk of “making a lot of noise without saying anything”.
Keane accused Liverpool of “defending like a pub team”, Neville said opposition players were attacking the Dutchman because they “now felt they had a chance” and Carragher reckoned “I’d take Van Dijk’s place”.
Van Dijk added: “Criticism is part of it – and it’s certainly not a problem if it’s justified. But a footballer knows when he has played well or badly.
“Some comments are also only intended to be controversial and are said just for the sake of saying them.
“There are so many platforms on which people can express their opinions these days. The problem is that, as a footballer, you can’t really say much back. If you do that once, you immediately have the puppets dancing.”
Liverpool’s late rally saw them qualify for the Europa League.
Van Dijk said: “I still have two years left on my contract and I assume that they still consider me important for the team.
“The way we finished the season motivates me to go into pre-season with the new players who are coming in.”