The Dutch centre-half is already at the top of his game, but believes important lessons can be taken from stars of other sports
Virgil van Dijk has cemented a standing among the global football elite, but the Liverpool centre-half is eager to scale even greater heights and has been using tennis legend Roger Federer as a source of inspiration.
The Netherlands international has been showered with praise over recent years, with the commanding 29-year-old making the art of defending look easy at times.
In that sense he is already of the Federer mould – with the enigmatic Swiss famed for his seemingly laid-back approach to earning success – but those at the top of any sporting field are always looking for marginal gains that will make them even better.
What has been said?
Van Dijk falls into that category, with the Dutchman – who has sat out much of the current campaign through injury and is set to miss this summer’s European Championship – saying in a new book by Leo Moynihan called ‘Thou Shall Not Pass: The Anatomy of Football’s Centre-Half’: “Some people suggest I make the game look easy, but trust me, every game is very tough.
“We play against world-class strikers, very physical strikers, and never am I thinking, ‘This is easy.’ Maybe though, I want my opponent to think I am.
“Look at Roger Federer. If you see him play tennis, you think he doesn’t sweat. Mentally, that must be so tough for his opponent, who will think he’s not trying.”
Van Dijk added on trying to emulate a man with 20 Grand Slam titles to his name: “Sometimes I think like that. Try to get into the head of the opponent, not by talking to him, not by kicking him, but trying to make him think that if he is going to play well or score today, he’s going to have to step up.
“Yes, you have to be confident in your own ability, otherwise people will walk all over you. There are other ways to win games; you don’t have to kick or curse people out.”
Van Dijk’s record at Liverpool
The Reds made Van Dijk the most expensive defender in world football when luring him away from Premier League rivals Southampton for £75 million ($106m) in January 2018.
He proved to be one of the final pieces in a trophy-winning jigsaw for Jurgen Klopp, with a long wait for major silverware brought to a close in 2019.
Liverpool claimed the Champions League crown that season, before going on to end a 30-year wait for title glory in the English top-flight a year later.
Sandwiched between those successes were UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup wins, with Van Dijk becoming a talismanic presence at the heart of the Reds’ defence.
He has been a big miss for Klopp’s side this season, having suffered knee ligament damage, but is now up to 130 appearances for the Merseyside giants and is tied to a contract through to the summer of 2023.